Movies 2017

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”
Alfred Hitchcock

Here’s to a year of increasingly short movies.

115 Responses to “Movies 2017”

  1. Mitchell

    Took a little break in my Alexander Payne retrospective to see Carol with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and then Room with Brie Larson. Pretty amazing films, both. Reviews soonish.

  2. Reid

    Those movies, as well as Brooklyn, for some reason don’t interest me very much. I think partly it’s because I don’t know much about them. Also, I think they look like films the Academy loves–and those tend to be films that I think are OK or even a little better, but not much more than that.

  3. Mitchell

    I had a feeling you were thinking that. It’s why I can’t really recommend anything to you. Because of the year they were released, and because they were all woman-centric stories, I think of all three in the same group, so I’m glad I saw them. I’m super behind on film reviews (like, 8 titles) but I’ll get around to these eventually.

  4. Reid

    I had a feeling you were thinking that. It’s why I can’t really recommend anything to you.

    Yeah, but there’s gotta be films that you see that don’t fit the description.

  5. Mitchell

    I guess, but these are three of the best films I’ve seen in two years. It’s tough to think that such excellent films could never satisfy you, and if they can’t, it’s tougher to imagine what could.

  6. Reid

    To be clear, you consider these best, not just favorite. If so, would these be candidates for the decade’s best? If you say yes to this, I’m more interested in seeing these.

  7. Mitchell

    That’s a good question. I do consider them among the three best films I saw in the past two years, but not sure about the decade.

  8. Mitchell

    I’m so far behind on my film reviews it’s disgusting. Having difficulty finding time and energy for this kind of writing, but I’m slowly establishing pockets of time in my new life, so hopefully I’ll manage to fill in this gigantic hole before it swallows me up.

    But here’s where I’m at as of this weekend.

    (these films viewed in 2016)
    The Descendants
    Bad Moms
    Suicide Squad

    (these films viewed in 2017)
    La La Land
    45 Years
    Grey Gardens
    Monty Python’s Life of Brian
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    Tokyo Adrift
    Manchester by the Sea

  9. Reid

    How’d you like Moana?

  10. Mitchell

    I’m going to put it on the north end of okay. So, pretty good, I guess.

  11. Reid

    Sounds close to my reaction, although I like it less and less the more I think about it.

  12. Mitchell

    I saw Animal House for the first time the other night. I was surprised by how entertained I was by it. Belushi gives kind of a Bill-Murray-like performance, and I liked it. I thought it was better than Stripes, ‘though it lacks the sweetness of Harold Ramis and John Candy in the latter.

  13. Mitchell

    I actually like Moana more the more I think about it. Did you see Aulii Cravalho’s performance at the Oscars?

  14. Reid

    Belushi gives kind of a Bill-Murray-like performance,…

    I don’t know if I’d agree with that, but I know what you mean.

    Did you see Aulii Cravalho’s performance at the Oscars?

    No. Was it good?

  15. Mitchell

    She blew it up. I do not get worked about about local people making it on huge stages — just the opposite, usually — but I was actually really proud of her. Look what happens to her at 3:20. 🙂

  16. don

    Did Cravalho get national buzz for her performance (It’s hard to out buzz the faux pas of the best picture award, I guess.)? I know she got a pretty good deal of local buzz though. But I agree she was great.

  17. Mitchell

    That’s a good question. She signed to do a TV pilot the next day, but that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that just happens right after a performance like that.

    I did a Google News search, and she’s showing up in some buzzy places, like Slate and Deadline.

  18. Reid

    Logan (2017)
    Dir. James Mangold

    This felt like an attempt to take comic book characters and place them in a more conventional drama/R-rated action movie–versus making a super hero film. The idea has merit, but, for me, the film failed both as a drama and action movie.

    I’m not sure what the problem is, but I just didn’t feel like the story was strong enough. I also thought the filmmakers failed to establish the key relationships in the movie. In short I would say the problem was the script.

    The film is also notable for the graphic violence. An alternative title could have been, “Wolverine Unleashed.” The film takes steps in showing the effect of Wolverine’s claws in an actual fight. Is that a good thing? For me, I don’t have much of a stomach and enthusiasm for graphic violence, but the bigger issue might have been the way the filmmakers shot the fight sequence–basically an incoherent jumble for the most part.

    10 Cloverfield Lane (2015)
    Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
    Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, etc.

    The less you know the better. I knew the general premise as well as another detail that really took a lot of away from the movie.

    If you need more I would say the movie fits into a thriller genre. More: a woman is taken by a man into a fallout shelter.

    As for my own reaction, I liked the opening in this, and for the most part the film carried me a long, although a big reason for this was my desire to know how the film would resolve some obvious questions the film raises at the beginning.

    The filmmaking was solid, particularly the efficiency: I don’t think there’s any dead spots or wasted film in this.

    Having said that, the film takes a few significant major missteps, and I’ll go over those in the next section (as they are major spoilers).

    Misstep #1:

    When Michelle discovers that Howard killed another person, she and Emmett decide to make a suit that will protect them from toxic chemicals. It’s a movie, so there are some far-fetched things, but I think the filmmakers might have tried to explore other ways of handling this. At the very least, the film could have showed how the characters arrived at their plan. A more realistic plan would have been to try and kill Howard, but that would have ruined the film. Then again…the film could have spend time doing this, and tied this into the ending they wanted.

    Misstep #2:

    It’s a little too contrived that Michelle has to crawl out of air duct to escape, versus trying to go through the door. This isn’t a major problem I guess, but still.

    Misstep #3:

    The ending seems a bit rushed and Michelle’s various ways of avoiding death seem improbable. At that point, I was taken out of the film.

  19. Mitchell

    (avoiding spoilers here)

    Your not being pleased with Logan was pretty much a foregone conclusion. I really liked it. I liked how self-contained it was, and I liked the ponderousness about family, and how Logan has sorta avoided it his whole life and how the X-Men still embraced him as one of them. The little gesture Laura makes with the cross at the very end is a terrific ending to the series, and Logan’s last words in the film are perfect.

    Oh, and I am unfamiliar with the Caliban character, but casting Stephen Merchant was genius.

  20. Reid


    Your not being pleased with Logan was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

    I don’t know if that’s true. If this was an adaptation, I am unfamiliar with the comic book version.

    I liked how self-contained it was,…

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “self-contained.” Wouldn’t the film’s impact be less if this was the only thing you saw about the X-Men? Then again, I wonder if it would have worked better?

    …and I liked the ponderousness about family, and how Logan has sorta avoided it his whole life and how the X-Men still embraced him as one of them.

    To me, the film didn’t really establish these things; the film just briefly touched on this–especially the part about Logan being accepted by the X-Men. The comic books actually do establish the fact that the X-Men accept Logan as a family member–in spite of his bloodlust. The films, including this one, don’t really do that in my view.

  21. Mitchell

    (minor spoilers)

    I don’t know if that’s true. If this was an adaptation, I am unfamiliar with the comic book version.

    It is an adaptation, of the Old Man Logan series. But since you don’t like Hugh Jackman as Logan, and Hugh Jackman plays Logan, there’s no way I’d have ever predicted you’d like this.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “self-contained.”

    Sorry. Yeah, I don’t mean that you might be able to enjoy it as much if you didn’t know anything about the X-Men. I mean it seems to be a self-contained story away from the canon and lore of the X-Men. There are references to other (not yet made into movies) incidents, but it doesn’t feel like a continuation of any of the other X-Men or Wolverine films.

    To me, the film didn’t really establish these things; the film just briefly touched on this–especially the part about Logan being accepted by the X-Men.

    I think it did more than just touch on them. There’s the whole immediate tension about who Laura is in relation to Logan, and there’s the (much too long, if you ask me) scene with Eriq LaSalle’s family, complete with Xavier’s exposition on family, where he implores Logan to allow himself to experience it for a change. And Xavier says something like “This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time.” That’s all about family.

    Somewhere in there (I can’t remember where) is a short talk about how the X-Men weren’t a school but a family, but I honestly can’t remember if that’s in the film or in some of the online discussion I read about it later.

    And when Logan says, “So this is what it feels like,” I don’t think he’s just talking about you-know-what. I think he’s also talking about being loved by a family, and allowing himself to love in return. That’s a great line.

    To a much lesser extent, the life Logan is living with Caliban and Xavier is very family-like, too. I was sorry to see what happens to Caliban mostly because of his relationship with Xavier and Logan, not because I know much about the character himself.

    Maybe that’s not enough. I think when I see it again (and I hope to), I’ll see even more, because I suspect there’s more to uncover along these lines.

  22. Reid


    It is an adaptation, of the Old Man Logan series. But since you don’t like Hugh Jackman as Logan, and Hugh Jackman plays Logan, there’s no way I’d have ever predicted you’d like this.

    If Jackman were that big of problem, I don’t think I would have seen the film. While I don’t like Jackman in this role, I don’t think his acting is so terrible that he couldn’t make the role work.

    I mean it seems to be a self-contained story away from the canon and lore of the X-Men. There are references to other (not yet made into movies) incidents, but it doesn’t feel like a continuation of any of the other X-Men or Wolverine films.

    Well, the tone is different; as I mentioned, the movie is more of a drama-action than a super hero film. If that’s what you mean, then I agree with you.

    There’s the whole immediate tension about who Laura is in relation to Logan, and there’s the (much too long, if you ask me) scene with Eriq LaSalle’s family, complete with Xavier’s exposition on family, where he implores Logan to allow himself to experience it for a change. And Xavier says something like “This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time.” That’s all about family.

    Yeah, I agree. I guess these aspects seemed largely hollow, emotionally, for me. In my opinion, the strength of the previous films wasn’t emotional–particularly the way the films conveyed this through the characters and their relationships. The films never really cared a lot about developing these things. For example, they kept rotating characters into the films and depended on convoluted plots.

    This film was more pared down in terms of character and story, but it still didn’t do a good job on this emotional level in my opinion. I think part of this goes back to the failure in the previous films. Now compare Logan and his relationship to Xavier and Laura with the relationship between Xavier and Erik (Magneto). To me, the bond between them is more real and emotionally resonant, more drama. I cared about both characters in a way that I don’t for almost all the other characters in these films.

    >Somewhere in there (I can’t remember where) is a short talk about how the X-Men weren’t a school but a family, but I honestly can’t remember if that’s in the film or in some of the online discussion I read about it later.

    They said it–but in this is a matter of telling not showing (in the previous films). One of the disappointments of the previous films is that the films failed to showed that the X-Men were a family, which is definitely something I remember from the comic books.

    And when Logan says, “So this is what it feels like,” I don’t think he’s just talking about you-know-what. I think he’s also talking about being loved by a family, and allowing himself to love in return. That’s a great line.

    But you would agree that this scene wouldn’t work so well if the film, up to that point, was emotionally hollow, right?

    To a much lesser extent, the life Logan is living with Caliban and Xavier is very family-like, too. I was sorry to see what happens to Caliban mostly because of his relationship with Xavier and Logan, not because I know much about the character himself.

    You made me think of something when you wrote this–namely, the ultimate fate of Xavier and Logan. I felt like their fate was pretty unsatisfactory, and I suspect this has partly to do with placing these characters in a less cartoon-y movie. I think their deaths would have been more palatable, if we saw them die in the other style of filmmaking; or if this were a kind of alternative universe type of movie. The deaths just seem anti-climatic, not really fitting for the characters; as if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with any good ideas, but they were tired of dealing with these characters and just wanted them to die so they could move on to other characters. (Actually, I feel like moving on, but this doesn’t seem like a good way to put an end to the characters in my view.)

    Maybe that’s not enough. I think when I see it again (and I hope to), I’ll see even more, because I suspect there’s more to uncover along these lines.

    As you write that, I’m wondering if I viewed this film through the wrong lens–namely, seeing this more as an action film. I wonder if I approached this as drama I would like it more. Of course, there’s a chance I could like it even less.

  23. Reid

    Spotlight (2015)
    Dir. Tom McCarthy

    I asked Mitchell if I liked All the President’s Men, would I like this? (Or, I asked if it was as good.) And he said, yes. I agree with him (on either question). The movie definitely reminded me of AtPM, and I would say it is just as good (although it’s been ages since I’ve seen AtPM).

    Generally, I like this type of story–which is basically a police procedural where an individual or group of people gradually gather pieces to a larger puzzle. (That doesn’t exactly describe the movie, but it’s close enough.)

    Having said that, I wasn’t enthusiastic about seeing this, mainly because I didn’t want to see the Catholic Church get trashed; plus, the topic itself isn’t so pleasant, to put it mildly. But the movie mostly focused on the group of reporters and their quest to tell the story. And I think that made the film more enjoyable to me.

    The filmmaking is solid all around.

  24. Mitchell

    What did you think of the actors?

  25. Reid

    I take this to mean, the acting. I thought it was fine, solid, nothing that really stood out, though. I like Keaton, Ruffalo, McAdams, and Schreiber in general.

  26. Mitchell

    Actually, I meant the actors, which included the acting. Because yeah: Michael Keaton was good, but I would have preferred someone else in that role since he already played a newspaper editor. And his Boston accent sounded a little shaky.

  27. Reid

    So it sounds like you’re (mostly) talking about casting? Anyway, I agree about Keaton’s accent–it didn’t sound very good (not that I’m an expert on Boston accents). Still, I liked him in this role for some reason, but I could see someone else being a better fit, too.

  28. Mitchell

    No, I was mostly asking about acting, but I wasn’t limiting my question to that. It’s really not important enough to pursue further.

    I have detailed thoughts on this movie, but I’m not finished writing them down yet.

  29. Mitchell

    Ugh. I’m so far behind on my reviews.

    I saw Blazing Saddles last week and thought it was okay. I didn’t find it very funny, but I saw something satirically humorous in the big picture, even if the small-picture jokes left me flat. I did really enjoy Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in the lead roles, but they seemed to float above their material most of the time.

    Then I saw it again last night. I’ve been discovering that some of these much-lauded comedies that leave me a little flat are actually funnier with repeated viewings. And the second viewing was funnier. I actually laughed aloud when Alex Karras as Mongo said, “Mongo only pawn in game of life.” Don’t ask me why, but now I think the Karras performance is quite funny.

    Anyway. I didn’t send the DVD back today as planned. I think I’ll watch it again with the Mel Brooks commentary. Although I still don’t love the film, I at least have a mild appreciation for it.

  30. Reid

    Do you like Mel Brooks’s humor in general? (I would guess you don’t.) If you don’t, that would explain a lot of it. I don’t really care for his humor, and Young Frankenstein was the only film that I sort of liked (although I believe that was originally a Gene Wilder film).

    I’ve been discovering that some of these much-lauded comedies that leave me a little flat are actually funnier with repeated viewings.

    I think this is true for a lot of comedies (at least ones that are half-way decent) and musicals. The first time I watched The Little Shop of Horrors, I didn’t really care for it. But it was HBO, and I saw it several times. After a few times, I became familiar with the music, and I started liking it a lot more.

  31. Mitchell

    I haven’t seen enough of Brooks’s stuff to say. He’s a good, funny interview.

    Man, I loved Little Shop of Horrors when I saw it in the theater. Such a good, clever, witty movie musical.

  32. Reid

    I don’t think you need to see many more to know if you’ll like him. (Maybe The Producers is a bit different, but they tend to be the same–although, it’s not like I’ve seen a lot of his films, either.)

    As for Little Shop, I do remember you liking that.

  33. Reid

    Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010)
    Dir. Sam Dunn, Scott MacFadyen

    This is a no-brainer for Mitchell, although I’m not sure he’d love this. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to others, unless they like the subject. I don’t think think others would dislike the film–I think they will think it’s OK, but that probably isn’t enough to make it worth watching.

    This is a documentary about Rush, the rock group. I thought the film was OK as far as giving a general overview of the group, both biographical information and information about their music. Like almost every documentary about musicians or artists, I wish this film spent a lot more time on the latter than the former–especially, providing analysis showing the reasons the music was noteworthy and exceptional. Biographical information and the information focusing on personal matters or group dynamics–basically anything besides the music–are becoming less and less interesting to me over time. I think this is mainly the case because much of the information follows familiar patterns.

    The film mentions that many critics panned the group. I didn’t realize this, and it surprised me. My sense was that critics loved the group, but that the group just didn’t really have a lot of mainstream success. The opposite actually seems closer to the truth–at least in the sense that there seemed to be large numbers of fans that kept the group going, while many critics didn’t think highly of the group. At one point, I think Geddy Lee describes the group as a cult mainstream group, and that seems like a good description.

    In any event, I wished the filmmakers would have explored the reasons for critics not liking the group. I got the sense that the filmmakers were fans of the group and that the film was basically a tribute to them, but I would have liked to have heard from critics who didn’t think highly of the band–particularly their reasons for this.

  34. Mitchell

    I have this in my queue but it’s kind of far down. I’m super familiar with the band’s history and the biographies of its members, so I don’t really need much of that. And since I’ve read so much criticism of the band (and so much of their talking about their own music), I don’t need to hear a lot about the music either. I’m far more interested just in their concert videos so I can see them play.

    However, Sam Dunn is the great metal documentarian who made Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Global Metal, and Iron Maiden: Flight 666, all of which I enjoyed a great deal. Dunn has a MA in sociology, so his approach is seldom about the music itself, although a bit of that does show up in his first documentary.

  35. Reid

    I’m far more interested just in their concert videos so I can see them play.

    I feel like there weren’t a lot of this–not of longer clips, anyway.

    Dunn has a MA in sociology, so his approach is seldom about the music itself,…

    And that’s not necessarily bad, if the stuff on sociology is really interesting. I don’t think that’s the case with this film, but you may disagree. (They talk a little about the music scene in Toronto, and maybe touch on Canadian rockers, but they don’t really explore this deeply.)

  36. Mitchell

    So, so, so far behind on reviewing my films, which I really want to get to. I’m hoping to carve out some time this weekend.

    Here’s what my list looks like now. Egad.

    the descendants 12/26
    allegiant 12/28
    bad moms 12/30
    suicide squad 12/30
    nebraska 12/31
    la-la-land 1/5
    carol 1/7
    room 1/9
    45 years 1/16
    spotlight 2/2
    grey gardens 2/6
    monty python’s life of brian 2/8
    monty python and the holy grail 2/18
    logan 3/6
    table 19 3/9
    blazing saddles 3/7
    moonlight 3/18
    hell or high water 3/19
    sausage party 3/20
    in dubious battle 3/21
    zootopia 3/22
    nocturnal animals 3/23
    trolls (2016) 3/26
    kubo and the two strings 3/27
    passengers 3/30
    loving 3/31
    fences 4/4
    ricki and the flash 4/8
    on golden pond 4/14
    under the volcano (before monday, hopefully)

  37. Reid

    How was Moonlight? Chris and Abra really loved that movie. Also, I’m curious to hear about In Dubious Battle. I assume that’s a remake of the Steinbeck novel.

  38. Mitchell

    Moonlight is good but I’m not sure it’s great. It’s certainly well put-together and unlike anything I can think of. If homosexual themes disturb you, as I suspect they kinda do, you might not enjoy it as much as I did, but I was pretty compelled from beginning to end. The third part of the movie is really well done, but there is one scene early in the film that I watched about 10 times. It’s definitely not a waste of your time if you decide to rent it.

    In Dubious Battle has kind of an unbelievable cast and it’s an adaptation of the Steinbeck novel. It was released to theaters in mid-February but nobody saw it or talked about it and it was on DVD just a month later. Not a remake; it’s the first film adaptation of what I consider among the better of the second-tier Steinbeck novels. Better review later.

  39. Reid

    Thanks for the information.

  40. Mitchell

    Tokyo Trash Baby (Tokyo Gomi Onna, 2000)
    Mami Nakamura, Kazuma Suzuki, Ko Shibasaki.  Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki.  Written by Shotaro Oikawa.

    In Tokyo Trash Baby, Miyuki, a twenty-something woman living alone in Tokyo, has a crush on Yoshinori, the musician who lives a few floors up. Whenever Yoshinori adds his trash to the pile behind the building, Miyuki swipes the whole bag and takes it to her apartment, where she sorts through the day’s trash-treasure. She saves the empty drink bottles, the discarded cigarette boxes, even the cigarette butts themselves, collecting it all in jars, plastic bags, or murals taped to her wall. She knows which brands of instant noodles, breakfast cereal, and smokes he prefers, all of which she adds to her own lifestyle in an effort to get closer to the object of her unrequited affection.

    Her apartment takes on the appearance of a shrine, a few items of garbage at a time, her crush growing first into infatuation and then obsession, as the orderly piles of his refuse also grow, covering walls and floor space.

    At first, the rest of her life seems pleasant, if unexciting. She waits tables in a cafe, where her sexually adventurous coworker shares updates on her latest encounter, and where a boring young businessman asks her nearly every day for a date.

    It’s difficult at times to tell whether Miyuki is going crazy or if she’s living safely within her fantasies. I’m inclined to look the other way on losing her grip on reality if she’s neither hurting anyone nor letting her fantasies wreck her life. If her imagination makes her sad, it at least gives her self-created purpose and an occasional interaction with the object of her dreams. It doesn’t seem to be much better or worse than her coworker’s romances or her regular customer’s similarly unrequited affection.

    The acting by Mami Nakamura is good, and I like the way director Ryuichi Hiroki frames a lot of his shots. Some may find it unnecessarily voyeuristic (Miyuki’s preferred alone-at-home attire is underwear and t-shirts), but it seems appropriate given the themes. Hiroki also lets things descend into unquestionable ickiness and (worse) meanness, but the film is mostly a hopeful experience.


  41. Mitchell

    The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
    Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Natalie Portman, Amara Karan, and Bill Murray.  Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Jason Schartzman.  Directed by Wes Anderson

    Francis has recently been in a terrible motorcycle crash.  Peter’s wife is seven months pregnant and he doesn’t know how to feel about it, since he always assumed his marriage wouldn’t last.  Jack has recently broken up with a girlfriend he doesn’t seem to want back, ‘though everything he does seems to be a reaction to this breakup.  The three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman, respectively) meet on the Darjeeling Limited, a train taking them to visit their semi-estranged mother, except that Peter and Jack don’t know it, because Francis has planned it to be a surprise.

    A warm blanket of sadness covers the men, and it colors their every interaction.  Their lives apart from one another seem sad for sure, but there are also the relationships with each other, their relationship with their mother, the recent death of their father, and seemingly multiple unspoken layers in between each of these.

    This is the first Wes Anderson film I’ve seen where the director’s visual style seems like more than just a style, but a storytelling device contributing to the viewer’s appreciation for the characters and their relationships.  “Here’s another way to look at these guys,” he seems to be telling us, rather than simply changing the backdrops behind the action on the screen like someone flicking through different greenscreen backgrounds while the brothers move through the plot.

    Much of the action takes place in the confines of a train, and the movement from one part of the train to the next, superimposed on the movement of the train through the landscape is like looking at one slideshow on top of another.  It’s visually interesting, and it adds context to the spoken and unspoken words the brothers exchange as they navigate the complexities of their relationships.  It’s an unexpected pleasure, unlike the chore it was to follow The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I admit I fell asleep in the middle of and have therefore never reviewed.

    Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman are perhaps at their best in this film, and I’m reminded of what drew me to Wilson when I first saw him in Shanghai Noon.  His goofy, earnest charm has been absent these past ten years or so, and it’s nice to see it again.  The dialogue, consistently a strength in an Anderson picture, is fascinating here, rolling in like waves and sweeping back out, as interesting and comfortably lulling as the rattle of a train over the tracks.

    What a pleasant surprise.  It’s not quite as good as Moonrise Kingdom, but in some ways it’s even better.  This feels like Anderson becoming the filmmaker I’d hoped he would become before I gave up on him.



  42. Reid

    Shoot, I wish I remembered what I wrote about this film. I think I had a feeling you might like this one.

  43. Mitchell

    I know where your review and your discussion with Arlyn about this movie are. Just haven’t looked at them yet.

  44. Reid

    OK, maybe I’ll look for it later.

    This is the first Wes Anderson film I’ve seen where the director’s visual style seems like more than just a style, but a storytelling device contributing to the viewer’s appreciation for the characters and their relationships.

    Isn’t this feature in a lot of his films? My sense is that this is actually a strength of his, although I haven’t really focused in on it. I’ve really like the visual aspects of Anderson’s filmmaking. I just never liked his sense of story and plot.

  45. Mitchell

    Creed (2015)
    Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad. Written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington. Directed by Ryan Coogler.

    If you can accept the plain evidence that Creed’s intended audience is young, you might not judge Ryan Coogler so harshly. It doesn’t make his movie any better, but it makes some of his decisions understandable. Rocky V played in theaters in 1990, so a ten-year-old seeing it in a cinema would have been (a) raised poorly by his or her parents and (b) a mind-blowing 35 years old when Creed played in theaters, and there are a lot of thirty-somethings who have never seen the first three Rocky films, never mind identifying emotionally with the characters and stories the way I and most of my guy friends do.

    Through this lens, the clamor for Creed and Michael B. Jordan to receive some Oscar love in the #OscarsSoWhite dust-up makes a little more sense—because without it, I’m baffled. Scenes that feel to me like schmaltzy, cheaply updated, lip-service tribute to the earliest Rocky films might have more emotional impact on someone who hasn’t seen those films twenty times each. I got my “Always Something There to Remind Me” in 1983; why shouldn’t young men and women get their younger, blacker Rocky with a smokin’ hot girlfriend in what seems to me a bizarre run-through-the-streets-of-Philly reenactment? Yeah, I think it’s ridiculous, but my parents didn’t get down with Naked Eyes. Thus the circle of pop-culture life continues.

    Jordan plays Adonis Creed, a son of Apollo Creed born after the ex-champ’s death. Adonis spends his youth in and out of juvenile detention, not knowing who his father is. When he comes into his own (with the help of a very wealthy benefactor), he leaves behind a promising career and a home in a mansion to seek his fortune as a fighter. Of course he recruits Rocky Balboa to be his manager.

    Stallone in his old role is not bad. He’s not quite as resonant as in Rocky Balboa, but of course that was material he was much closer to. Stallone is known to be a thoughtful, introspective actor, and one gets the feeling he’s channeling a lot of these-are-the-last-days weariness into Rocky while consciously working to keep the focus on Jordan. My problem with Rocky is that I’m not buying this version of him as a manager. I’m at a loss to come up with something better, but this cheap wisdom-declaring semi-scientist concept rings untrue. Nobody in Rocky’s history of managers has ever given him specific in-fight advice about countering an opponent’s tendencies, so where did this come from?

    Right, right. Circle of pop-culture life. See? I can’t distance myself from Rocky’s history because it’s too deeply ingrained in certain parts of my identity. And there’s a lot of stuff like that in this film, stuff that’s not really an issue in Rocky Balboa because I’m pretty sure I’m the intended audience of that movie. I would like to know what a younger person thinks of this movie’s version of the “Adrian!” “Rocky!” scene because boy, it does not work for me, as many scenes owing something to their source material do not work for me. Character and relationship development are so cursory they may as well not even be there. I can’t tell what anyone thinks of anyone else and there’s no real evidence to support anything we’re supposed to believe.

    But hey. It’s still better than Rocky V.


  46. Mitchell

    Conspiracy Theory (1997)
    Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson, Patrick Stewart. Written by Brian Helgeland. Directed by Richard Donner.

    I expected Conspiracy Theory to suck, but it was surprisingly entertaining and not a bad flick. Mel Gibson is Jerry, a cab driver in New York, and the publisher of a newsletter called Conspiracy Theory. He has all kinds of unprovable ideas about black helicopters, secret governments, and the Grateful Dead as intelligence agents. Turns out he might be right about at least one thing (he doesn’t know what) because some guy named Jonas, played by Patrick Stewart, wants to know what else Jerry knows.

    Jerry seeks the help of Julia Roberts’s Alice, an FBI lawyer on whom he has a crush. He once saved her from a mugging, so she’s willing to give him a few minutes and hear his story, only his story doesn’t make sense. Now it’s apparently Jerry and Alice against the FBI, the CIA, and other nameless underground agencies.The setup is quite good. Gibson swings between one-step-away-from-unhinged and sad puppy dog, and manages to go through all kinds of fight and escape sequences without going into macho mode. Roberts does what she usually does, playing the smart, cool, independent woman carrying around vulnerability and sadness she only shows to a select few. It’s a really good combination and I would have liked to see it in a film with a better second half.

    I want Julia Roberts to kiss people. It’s one of the reasons I watch a Julia Roberts movie. However, I didn’t want her to do it in this one, yet the film insists on setting up a romance that should never be. I’m not even sure (giving the writer the benefit of the doubt) Alice even has those kinds of feelings for Jerry, but even the stuff she gives him is just a bit too much. There’s an “I love you too” that’s maybe the worst, least believable “I love you too” I’ve ever seen. On screen, that is. I’ve received a few that were worse, at least in retrospect, and I may have utterered a few with less credibility.

    The movie sorta devolves into the cat-and-mice action picture I expected, but it doesn’t suck because I like the characters. The film plays with darkness and cynicism in snack-sized bites I wouldn’t have minded in more substantial servings, although I understand why it doesn’t go there, and the strength of the performances is enough to keep me intrigued.


  47. Mitchell

    Take the Money and Run (1969)
    Woody Allen, Janet Margolin, Louise Lasser. Written by Woody Allen and Mickey Rose. Directed by Woody Allen.

    Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run is mostly a mockumentary, but don’t analyze it too closely or you find all kinds of things that make it far more like a traditional narrative and not really a mockumentary at all. Unlike This is Spinal Tap, which has an on-camera interviewer and a camera directly addressed by its subjects, this movie has footage where there never would have been a camera, as when our main character Virgil Starkwell attempts to break out of prison with a fake gun made of soap and shoe polish.

    Still, the absurdist comedy is fairly enjoyable if you’re the sort to laugh when the voiceover narrator explains that Virgil’s chain gang is fed one meal per day: a bowl of steam. Or when Virgil recounts how he met his wife, a woman whose purse he attempts to snatch, explaining, “After fifteen minutes I wanted to marry her, and after half an hour I completely gave up the idea of stealing her purse.” Honestly, a lot of this feels like the boring parts of Benny Hill or Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

    I think this is the tenth Allen film I’ve seen, of the movies he wrote and directed, so there are no surprises here; nor are there any wows. The one revelation for me is Janet Margolin, who plays Virgil’s wife. She’s very, very, very pretty. Also a pretty good actor and quite possibly the best thing about this film. She was also in Annie Hall, which I have seen, but I do not remember her in it. Might have to bump that one up in the queue.

    My major gripe is not with the film itself, but the format of the DVD I watched it from. I was under the impression that Allen didn’t want his films viewed in any format he hadn’t intended, which is why Manhattan is the first letterboxed movie I ever saw on TV. The DVD I saw had it in pan-and-scan, something that almost made me eject the disc before it even got started.

    Not much to look at here, outside of Margolin.


  48. Reid

    Margolin also stars in Jonathan Demme’s first film. She caught my eye in that, too.

    By the way, you’re mockumentary comment makes me a little curious to re-watch this.

  49. Mitchell

    I’m Through with White Girls (2007)
    Anthony Montgomery, Lia Johnson, Ryan Alosio, Lisa Brenner, Lynn Chen. Written by Courney Lilly. Directed by Jennifer Sharp.

    Jay is a young comic book artist with a history of dating white women. He is immature in relationships, and his recurrent break-up method is to leave an apologetic letter to his girlfriend and sneak out the door while she sleeps. After one of these breakups, he swears he’s done with white girls, who he insists only date him because they’ve fetishized black men according to black-man stereotypes.

    Yet he’s certain the reason he dates white women is that black women have some weird, media-inspired ideal of the strong, independent black man, an ideal he can’t live up to either.

    I don’t know which movie did it first, but we are treated to that clichéd sequence of rotating dates where a Viewmaster-like parade of romantic candidates across a restaurant table each says something strange, frightening, or otherwise disqualifying. One of them is an Asian woman (played by Lynn Chen, the only reason I sought this movie), and the cliché gets a little more interesting here. We see her across the table as with the others, but in fetishized Asian woman stereotypes as Jay cycles her through his ideas of geisha women and anime girls.

    Jay meets Catherine, a young up-and-coming writer whose new book is getting lots of buzz from all the good places, and we’re treated to the usual romantic comedy plot. There are some very thoughtful, creative moments as this film tries to step through some fresh territory about relationships and race, and this might have been an excellent film if the supporting characters were not so obnoxious or unbelievable. I admit it’s nice to see Johnny Brown (Nathan Bookman from Good Times) and Alaina Reed Hall (Olivia from Sesame Street) on a movie screen in 2007, but it’s not enough to make up for some bad decisions with plot and character.

    I’m Through with White Girls is not a waste of time, but it feels like a wasted opportunity to do something great.


  50. Mitchell

    Beat Street (1984)
    Rae Dawn Chong, Guy Davis, Grand Master Melle Mel and the Furious Five, The Treacherous Three, Doug E. Fresh, Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force, DJ Kool Herc. Directed by Stan Lathan.

    In 1984 I was 15 and deep into my if-it-doesn’t-rock-it-sucks phase (of which my younger sister rightfully declared, “this new you sucks”), so that year’s Beat Street could have won an Oscar for Least Likely to be Seen by Me. But I was a child, and I spoke as a child, and I understood as a child, and I thought as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things. In this way, as I made a list of 1984 films to catch up on, and Beat Street came up in my exploration, I uttered an enthusiastic “Well, why not?” as I added it to the queue.

    The central character, Kenny Kirkland (“Double K”), is an aspiring DJ, spending his days mixing in his bedroom and his nights performing at dances in abandoned buildings. His little brother Lee is the youngest but most promising dancer in a breakdance crew, and their neighborhood friend Ramon (“Ramo”) is a notorious street artist who specializes in whole subway cars. Each tries to make it in the hip-hop culture, even though they don’t have a real concept of what that looks like. In 1984 there’s no path to a career in graffiti, and breakdancing is little more than something to gawk at, misinterpreted even by the neighborhood police as aggressive behavior.

    To its credit, the film does more than just try to capitalize on urban youth culture of the mid-Eighties. It dips its toes into the deep end of the pool, addresses easy stereotypes and a few other social issues. Kenny and Lee are young black men, but their closest friends are Latino, white, and black (alas, there is nary an Asian to be seen, but not every film can be set in a Benetton ad), and it’s not a big deal. Ramon has a girlfriend and an infant, and as his street fame grows, so do his responsibilities to his loved ones. His misunderstanding father is wrong about Ramon’s art, but maybe he’s right about getting a real job. When a pretty music student at the city college (Rae Dawn Chong as Tracy—oh wait! There’s our Asian!) invites Lee to do a demo at her school, Kenny recognizes it as a cultural appropration of Lee’s moves, biting in the worst way.

    A film about any one of these three young men might have been a better approach so that we could get a little more depth at the expense of breadth, but the wide view of rapping, DJing, breaking, and street art as connected parts of a whole culture, isn’t a bad idea. The film gives props to some of hip-hop’s prominent pioneers, including some oft-forgotten leaders like Kool Herc and the Treacherous Three, whose socially-themed, kind of clownish performance of “Santa Rap” features one of my favorites, Kool Moe Dee rapping without his signature shades.

    Beat Street makes a few bad decisions, mostly in its presentation of the performers. There is a certain live hip-hop sound that the film fails to capture. The performers lip-sync to their tracks, giving the musical scenes, of which there are many, a cheap MTV look, but without the production value. Just about every number looks like a rap performed by people who don’t rap, which in most cases just isn’t true. I’ve never seen Melle Mel live, but the Furious Five’s ending performance looks like the worst of the Solid Gold performances. This should not be.

    The acting is flat almost throughout, except for Rae Dawn Chong, who’s quite good. In fact, the other actors are better when they’re in scenes with her. But you’re not watching the film for the acting, really. It’s the musical and dance sequences that carry the film, and as a time capsule of a certain angle on mid-Eighties hip-hop, a 100-level introductory course, it’s passable.


  51. Reid

    Beat street king of the beat you say you’re rockin that beat from across the street u-huh-huh…

  52. Mitchell

    Nice! I’m surprised you can remember the raps from this.

  53. Mitchell

    Hook (1991)
    Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Dante Basco. Written by Jim V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

    The problem with Steven Spielberg’s Hook is that it’s too long, and parts of it are boring. A film with Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan returning to Neverland to fight Captain Hook shouldn’t ever be dull, but it’s painfully so in places where it shouldn’t be, and it takes too long, first to get Peter to Neverland and then to get him back home.

    Add to that a weird decision to make Julia Roberts a kind of Lost Boys version of Tinkerbell, and the film has kind of a weird it’s-not-really-magic feel. I understand the rationale, as it is important for the audience to believe that Peter and his experiences are real, but why at the expense of Tinkerbell’s femininity?

    Peter is unaware of who he is, although he is aware of the story of Peter Pan. His grandmother is the Wendy Darling in the story, and Peter thinks the oft-told story of Pan is an invention of his grandmother’s. So when Hook kidnaps his children, it takes Peter a while to understand the truth of his past, and even longer to embrace it. The Lost Boys and Tinkerbell try to help, but Peter is too stuck in his boring, overly cautious businessman ways.

    Still, anything to save his children. And for that he must confront Hook, played with relish by Dustin Hoffman, who acts the heck out of his role and leaves me wishing someone else had been cast. The extreme camp of this portrayal doesn’t work for me against the humdrum of Peter’s real-world reality. Something a little less crusty, perhaps even younger, might have worked better.

    I don’t think this is a spoiler, but if you’re sensitive to being spoiled at all by a 26-year-old movie, skip this paragraph. In my favorite scene, and the only one that really sticks pleasantly in my memory, Tinkerbell grows herself to Peter’s height, and she lets her hair down and looks pretty for the first time in the movie. She professes her love for Peter, even knowing that he loves his wife, and gives him a kiss. It’s the Julia we want to see in a movie like this, and it’s the Peter we want to see in a movie like this. I realized at this moment that what I really want to see is a romantic comedy with Roberts and Williams in the leads. Alas.

    As an entertainment for children, it’s not bad, ‘though it feels like a Disneyland ad for some reason. A young Dante Basco plays Rufio and it’s an unexpected pleasure for me to see him this way. A friend who’s acquainted with Basco tells me that whenever she sees him, people yell “Rufiooooo!” at him, and I have to admit I’d be tempted in the same situation. It feels like a star-making role.

    I’d watch it with my kids, but I would hope that they wouldn’t enjoy it too much.


  54. Mitchell

    Ghost in the Shell (1995)
    Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka. Written by Kazunori Ito (based on the manga by Masamune Shiro). Directed by Mamoru Oshii.

    I confess that although I’ve had Ghost in the Shell on my radar for at least ten years, I finally saw it because of the whitewashing accusations hurled at the 2017 live-action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson, and I wanted in on the discussion. I don’t think whitewashing is as big a deal as some of my friends think it is, but I didn’t want to engage in the conversation without knowing what I was speaking about.

    And you know what? Even if I did care about whitewashing, I wouldn’t make a big deal out of this one. The main character, Motoko Kusanagi, exists in a world where cybertechnology allows living brains to exist in cyber bodies. Further, it’s also possible for a human mind to exist in a cyber brain, the titular ghost in the shell. It’s unclear to me what in Motoko’s body and brain are the stuff she was born with, making ethnicity, race, and even biological sex meaningless. Yes, the film is set in Japan, but would an adaptation necessarily have to be, if we’re talking about some imagined world in some very distant future?

    On a scale of meh to outrage, I rate the casting of Johansson in the Motoko role a meh, although my thoughts might change if I see the live-action adaptation.

    The story is pretty complicated, and I had to pause the DVD several times so I could read the subtitles slowly, not so much in order to follow the plot as to get a grip on the multiple philosophical discussions. When the essence of your mind can inhabit a manmade physical brain, and when that brain can inhabit a manmade body, all kinds of issues related to the self come into play, and the film’s characters seem to spend a fair amount of time thinking about them.

    A ghost in a shell can access information networks, apparently, and all the stuff this implies. If you’ve seen Her or Lucy, one wonders if Johansson is being typecast here, if such a role is typecastable. I know I’m being silly here, but consider the way actors like Wilford Brimley and Paul Giamatti are often cast, based not only on physical traits but a certain kind of chracter space they inhabit well, and is it so outrageous to cast Johansson based on acting history as opposed to skin color or the birthplace of her parents?

    I’m not going to summarize the story because I don’t honestly know exactly what it is. This is not to say it’s not knowable. It’s just kind of complicated, begging for repeated viewings I couldn’t give it. I understand the major plot points, especially in the beginning and end, when I hit pause and rewind several times, so I’ll just say that the plot serves the philosophical mysteries pretty well, with a pretty decent balance between who-are-we-and-why-are-we-here conversation and i’m-going-to-shoot-you-with-this-blaster action.

    The artwork is lovely if the animation is kind of rough at times. If one of the purposes of animation is to put you in an imagined world you wouldn’t see in real life, it accomplishes at least that goal beautifully.

    Honestly, I kind of want more, except that I want a finite more, and this is the kind of plot that could go on and on with no real end. I don’t really want to get sucked into something like that. I still feel bad for having given up on The Big Bang Theory.


  55. Mitchell

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillen, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell. Written by James Gunn. Directed by James Gunn.

    If you liked the original Guardians of Galaxy, you will almost surely like this sequel, Guardians ot the Galaxy Vol. 2, especially if what you liked was the stuff you don’t normally see in comic book superhero movies. The over-reliance on songs, the silly in-the-action conversation, the offbeat characters, and the creative action sequences are all here, in pretty much the exact quantities. It really does feel like a continuation of the first movie, in plot, theme, and presentation.

    I have one new good thing and one new bad thing to say about this sequel, but I think they kind of balance each other out, so I’m rating this film the same as I rated its predecessor. The good thing is that I can’t think of a comic book superhero movie where the team of superheroes works as well together, especially in action sequences, as it does in this film. There’s an interdependence born of well-conceived characters that makes this an especially enjoyable film, not to mention a sweetness in what seems like genuine affection.

    The bad thing is that there seems to be less of Zoe Saldana’s character than in the first movie. That’s going to happen sometimes in serial films, but I hate to see her relegated to a second-tier element in the story.

    Small complaint, though, as it’s a fun and funny movie. I laughed more the second time I saw it, too, which is nice.

    In this one, Peter Quill encounters his real father and is reconnected with his surrogate father. There’s a problem with his real dad, though, and the fact that he’s played by Kurt Russell isn’t it. His dad has immortal, god-like qualities that only have meaning if they are used (wait for it!) to take over the whole galaxy.

    There’s another new character I at first found irritating but then really liked. Pom Klementieff plays Mantis, an empath with snail-like antennae, who’s even more socially clueless than Dave Bautista’s Drax. They make a fun partnership, and I hope Mantis makes it into the next sequel. She’s a nice foil for Zaldana’s Gamora.

    A mid-credits scene shows Sylvester Stallone with a bunch of other Ravagers, including one who is clearly played by Michelle Yeoh. Yes. Please.

    Fun! Entertaining!


  56. Reid


    The good thing is that I can’t think of a comic book superhero movie where the team of superheroes works as well together, especially in action sequences, as it does in this film. There’s an interdependence born of well-conceived characters that makes this an especially enjoyable film, not to mention a sweetness in what seems like genuine affection.

    I think the film does a pretty good of creating chemistry and an emotional bond between the characters, but it’s not entirely successful in my view. That is, I feel as if it could have been better. By the way, in my opinion, this dynamic existed in the X-Men comics (the second incarnation), but the films didn’t really translate this well to the screen.

    How did you like the overall family/father theme in the film? I thought that might be something that would take the film to another level of enjoyment for you.

  57. Reid

    I saw a bunch of films recently, probably more than I have in a while. For whatever reason, I had no desire to write about most of them, except for two, and that’s probably due to my somewhat tepid response to the films. I’ll say a few things about those films first and then get to the films that I’m more enthusiastic about.

    Wonder Woman (2017)
    Dir. Patty Jenkins
    Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, etc.

    Gadot is really attactive (having a Terri Farrell smile), but more importantly, I thought she had a good look for the part. The action sequences were pretty good, as well.

    Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
    Dir. Edward Zwick
    Starring: Tom Cruise

    Not a great movie by any stretch, but I’m still surprised that I even enjoy the Reacher films as much as I do. Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve come to the conclusion that Tom Cruise is one of my all-time favorite action leads.

    Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
    Dir. Jon Watts
    Starring: Tom Holland, etc.

    I really like the casting of Tom Holland. I also thought the film version of the Vulture is far cooler and interesting than the comic-book version.

    I disliked the Ned character, and do not like the casting of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.

    I’ll write about the two films I liked later.


    Oops, I forgot one more:

    Baby Driver (2017)
    Dir. Edgar Wright

    I would cautiously recommend this to Mitchell. I’m not sure if he will like this, but I suspect he’d want to see this. I’d recommend watching this with as little information as possible, too.

    I heard some compare this to a Tarantino movie, and I can definitely see that. It doesn’t really work, though in my opinion. Wright’s sensibilities don’t seem like a good match for a Tarantino flick. I’ve heard comparisons to Walter Hill’s The Driver, and that’s definitely there as well. This film is not as good as that one in my opinion (or Nicholas Winding Refn’s hommage, Drive).

  58. mitchell

    The father themes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn’t do much for me. The sudden appearance of a real dad was interesting but emotionally empty. The surrogate dad stuff worked more from Yondu’s perspective, as he has made mistakes and suffers real consequences before hopefully redeeming himself. I wasn’t feeling it as much from Quill’s end, although the sequence where Yondo gives himself up is pretty effective.

    I’ve heard all kinds of things about Baby Driver and am not avoiding it but neither am I especially eager to see it. The reviews are all over the place.

  59. Reid

    The father themes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn’t do much for me.

    This doesn’t surprise me, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you love this aspect of the film, either.

    I’ve heard all kinds of things about Baby Driver and am not avoiding it but neither am I especially eager to see it. The reviews are all over the place.

    It just seems like a movie you’d be interested in seeing, and happy to have seen, even if you end up not really liking it.

  60. Mitchell

    That’s actually the feeling I get based on the reviews I’ve heard. So maybe I’ll see it.

  61. Reid

    OK, just don’t get mad if you don’t like it. 😉

    Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America (2016)
    Dir. Noah Ornstein

    This is documentary about Daryl Davis, an African-American who has approached and often made friends with members of the KKK. Davis couldn’t understand how someone could hate him without even knowing him, so he wanted to talk to members of KKK to find out.

    Some comments:

    1. The film features one or two actual conversations, before Davis establishes either a friendship with the person he’s talking to, but I wish there were more. I wanted to see the more of the way Davis handled these situations, although I guess filming these conversations may be difficult;

    2. In general, I really like Davis’s approach and the rationale behind it. Basically, he believes that a) creating a dialogue is better than fighting or not talking to the other person; b) listening and respecting the other person’s views will often lead to the other person listening and respecting your own views; c) this type of interaction can change people–leading them to abandon their racist views.

    3. Not all people with racist views will abandon them, but I think this is one of the best ways to facilitate this. Verbally attacking someone would be counterproductive.

    4. I would like to see Davis–and others–apply this approach to those that voted for Trump. That is, respectfully listen to their views with genuine interest, refraining from judging or verbally attacking them. If anti-Trumpers used this approach, I really think Trump’s support would diminish–not necessarily because these individuals would completely change their views; rather, I think this quiet, respectful dialogue wouldn’t create the type of resentment that helped Trump.

    Patterson (2016)
    Dir. Jim Jarmusch
    Starring: Adam Driver, etc.

    I’d cautiously recommend this to Mitchell, and then Kevin. Penny and Chris might find this interesting, but I’m less certain. Same with Grace. I would not recommend it to any of the other idiots.

    This is a film about a bus driver who also happens to be a poet. Like some of Jarmusch’s other films, this has a languid pace, focusing on the mundane–a combination of Strangers in Paradise with something like Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face.

    I haven’t thought deeply about the film, but the film seems to be about the way artists live ordinary lives, doing ordinary jobs and the way their creativity and artmaking express themselves within that context. I really like the way the film depicted the intersection of the two.

    The idea of twins seemed prominent, and my first reaction is that the twin idea represented the way Patterson is a kind of twin or reflection of Patterson the town.

  62. Mitchell

    The Natural (1984)
    Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Michael Madsen. Written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry (based on the novel by Bernard Malamud). Directed by Barry Levinson.

    I first saw The Natural only a few years ago at a friend’s house. We had a nice conversation about it after. I’m sure I mentioned things I liked and things I didn’t care for. But as I recently went through a list of 1984 film in hopes of seeing good ones I missed, I stopped on this one and realized I couldn’t remember a single thing about it, except two particular home run scenes because they get played all the time in sports TV.

    So I saw it again, with strangely fresh eyes. I’d read the novel (which I now cannot really remember either) in the fall of 1993, a particularly rough and memorable season in my life, something that may also have affected my first viewing. Unburdened by whatever, I grabbed some trail mix and got comfy.

    How did I forget that Barry Levinson, a director I really like, directed this picture? It has a lot of the Levinson stuff, with city streets where all the cars look the same, and those gauzy daylight shots in fields where fluffy stuff is floating around in the air, and kids carrying shoeshine boxes while calling people “mister.” The look and feel of this movie is one of the best things about it, something I was happy to rediscover.

    I close my eyes and I can still hear the soundtrack, and I swear it’s by someone like James Horner, but it’s Randy Newman. Dreamy.

    The baseball stuff in a baseball movie is very important to me. I don’t care if what happens on the field is improbable, but I want to believe that a baseball game is being played. The baseball stuff here mostly passes the test, but one major scene (this isn’t really a spoiler) is nearly ruined for me. In the scene where Robert Redford hits a homer that smashes the scoreboard clock (where Glenn Close stands up and people yell at her to sit down), I think it was ESPN’s Adnan Virk who pointed out that the Knights are the visiting team, so Hobbs hits a walk-off homerun when he can’t actually hit one. I played the scene three times and there’s actually a little bit of room for benefit of the doubt. Nobody in the stands gets up to go, indicating that the game isn’t over. We do see reporters rush onto the field for photographs and interviews, and that’s certainly not realistic, but that’s more likely than Cubs fans staying in their seats minutes after the game is over.

    What a cast, and what solid acting. I especially enjoy the scenes with Roy and Iris in the last act of the movie. Levinson lets Redford and Close take their time, leaving comfortable but uncomfortable pauses between lines. Stuff is not being said, and stuff is being said that’s waited a long time, and both characters are being careful, for their own safety and for each other’s.

    I watched it twice this week, and I don’t think I’m likely to forget it again. It’s a lovely movie.


  63. Reid

    The look and feel of this movie is one of the best things about it, something I was happy to rediscover.

    I agree with this. I feel like I haven’t seen a movie in a long time that made me feel this way (although I really haven’t been watching a lot of movies). I wish this weren’t the case.

  64. Mitchell

    Full Frontal (2001)
    Julia Roberts, David Duchovny, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, David Hyde Pierce, Blair Underwood, Jeff Garlin, Brad Pitt. Written by Coleman Hough. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

    Well here’s something you don’t see every day. A 101-minute film by an Oscar-winning director, shot on the prosumer-level Canon XL-1s and edited in Final Cut Pro. It’s Sundance in its tech but Hollywood in its pedigree, something noticeable to any audience within the first minute of the film, giving it a total indie look and feel.

    I’m not sure at all what the film really is. The strructure is a movie-within-a-movie, the details of which might spoil the movie, so I won’t elaborate. But there are extra layers leading one to believe it may be either two separate movies within a movie, or a movie within a movie within a movie, and there’s a scene at the very end that makes one think there may be yet another movie. Or else it’s kind of like that Escher painting with the steps that only go down and down and down even as they circle around on themselves again.

    I don’t always mind being baffled by a movie, if there’s enough there to let me try to figure things out as they go along. That’s not my problem with Full Frontal. My problem is that despite its excellent and interesting cast, the film is mostly horribly boring. Which it shouldn’t be, because it has some interesting story elements.

    • Catherine Keener is leaving her husband, David Hyde Pierce. Pierce works at a magazine where he inappropriately asks his coworkers questions about pornography.
    • Keener’s sister Mary McCormack is a masseusse looking forward to a trip to Tuscon, where she is planning to meet someone she met online. She seems to have had some bad luck in relationships, which Keener never lets her forget.
    • One of the characters, maybe Pierce’s, is producing a play about Hitler.
    • Julia Roberts is a writer, interviewing Blair Underwood for some Hollywood publication.
    • Blair Underwood is in a movie where he plays Brad Pitt’s sidekick, but he wants to break out of this second banana stuff and produce his own movie.
    • Jeff Garlin is an executive named Harvey at Miramax, obviously (or merely probably) Harvey Weinstein (he mentions his “brother Bob”). He’s the funniest person in the movie.
    • Almost all of them are planning to attend a birthday party for a film executive named Gus, played by David Duchovny.

    Yet most of the film is kind of a drag. According to Wikipedia, Richard Roeper wrote that it was “like the Special Features disc of the DVD without the original movie.” That’s a pretty good description! I can’t decide if I dislike this movie while admitting it’s probably great, or kind of like it while acknowledging that it’s terrible. Seriously, there is somehow a fine line between those, and I’m right on it.

    Jeff Garlin’s tiny part is the highlight, but I also kind of like Catherine Keener and Mary McCormack, whom I suspect may be the main characters, the real people this movie is about.


  65. Mitchell

    Frances Ha (2012)
    Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d’Ambroise, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen. Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Directed by Noah Baumbach.

    Frances and Sophie are the kind of best friends who fall asleep in each other’s beds and who seem to be more excited about talking with each other on the phone than with their boyfriends in person. Every conversation is laden with inside jokes and silly gestures that crack them both up, and at first Frances Ha seems like it’s going to be a movie about this friendship, and you kind of want it to be.

    But it’s really a movie about Frances, a sort-of professional dancer who good enough to be sort-of a professional dancer but maybe not much better, and although she’s graceful in performance, she is awkward just about everywhere else. In the middle of conversations at parties with people she’s just met, she blurts out strange monologues about what she’s always wanted in life. When a possible suitor touches her shoulder, she makes the buzzing game-show sound of rejection—aloud—while she flinches away from the offending hand.

    Frances stumbles her way from one living arrangement to the next, struggling financially and interpersonally, balancing precariously somehow between joy and depression, between destitution and scraping by. What Frances wants and whether or not she has what it takes to get it isn’t nearly as interesting as what we want for Frances as we see her struggle. I wasn’t sure what I wanted her to achieve, but I knew that I really, really wanted her to be happy. Placed in weird parties with normal people, Frances can’t seem to say or do anything that makes sense, but the same behaviors in the midst of other friends, including Sophie, make her shine.

    Presented beautifully in black and white, the technical decisions in the film are almost as impressive as the writing decisions, and if you get a chance to see the Criterion Collection release of this film, short presentations on both aspects are offered as extra features. The extra evening it might take you to view the few but fascinating extras (including an interview of Noah Baumbach by Peter Bogdanovich) is totally worth it, and they make a second viewing even better than the first.


  66. Mitchell

    I agree with this. I feel like I haven’t seen a movie in a long time that made me feel this way (although I really haven’t been watching a lot of movies). I wish this weren’t the case.

    For some reason it reminds me, in look and feel, of Tucker: The Man and His Dream, another movie I saw at your house. And another movie whose score I might have attributed to James Horner. But it’s Joe Jackson.

  67. Reid

    Agree about Tucker. Do the films occur around the same time period…No, maybe not. But they both are going for a kind for a old timey feel, if that makes any sense.

    To be clear, my comment was meant more broadly–not just specific to that time period (not that that matters). I need to see a film that just looks and feels good.

  68. Mitchell

    Hell or High Water (2016)
    Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Directed by David Mackenzie.

    I can think of a few things I might have done to make Hell or High Water better, but I can’t think of anything it does wrong. One of the best things about always finding something to complain about in a movie is that when a film comes along and I can’t think of a single legitimate gripe, it becomes something really special. And while it doesn’t have quite the emotional heft of other no-complaint movies like Beauty and the Beast or Casablanca, Hell or High Water has an emotional and visual ambience to put it in the league of The Shawshank Redemption.

    Jeff Bridges is Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger a few weeks from retirement. Unsure what he’s going to do with himself when he’s no longer part of the action, he seems to earn a break from thinking too much about it when he and his partner investigate a string of small-town bank robberies. We’re spared too much of the procedural stuff but we get a glimpse of Hamilton’s sharp mind and long experience, as well as his tendency toward rude insults and humor, mostly at the expense of his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

    The robbers are Toby and Tanner Howard, brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. Although they are poor, it’s not greed that has either brother putting on a ski mask and picking up a weapon. Hamilton picks up on this and the chase is on.

    The movie is stylistically a cross between the first season of True Detective and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. I wouldn’t be surprised if writer Taylor Sheridan was a Springsteen fan, because there are some themes here that sound like they come right off the lyrics sheet. Which is to say it’s really, really good.

    The dialogue, story, music, acting, and cinematography are all on the upper end of excellent. Although I might have liked a liiiittle more development of the Hamilton-Parker relationship and a liiiiittle more of Tanner’s backstory, especially with his ex-wife and sons, if fleshing these out would in any way have messed with the pacing, I can do without them. This is a movie that manages to take its time while also hurtling you and its characters to the finish.

    I’ve heard people complain about the last scenes of True Detective season one, and although I don’t agree with the complaints, I understand the point. I kind of picture them all, on seeing the end of Hell or High Water, standing up in their seats and saying, “THAT is how you end a great story!”

    I’ve now seen most of the films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2016, and I’m quite sure this is the best of them.


  69. Reid

    I avoided the review because I haven’t seen the film–but, whoa! 93/100.

  70. Reid

    I Call Him Morgan (2016)
    Dir. Casper Collin

    Documentary about Lee Morgan, his wife Helen, and their fate. Morgan was a jazz trumpeter, who played from the 50’s to the early 70s. Would I recommend this to big jazz fans? Not really. If you’re interested in the music, I don’t think this documentary has much to offer. Would I recommend it to non-jazz fans? Again, not really, which isn’t to say that I think the film is bad. However, for what it’s worth, the film interested me because of Helen Morgan, who came across sympathetically in my view. I feel like the movie would have been more interesting if it spent more time exploring who she was.

    I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
    Dir. Raoul Peck

    This is a film essay based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book, connecting the lives of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr.

    I can’t do a good job of reviewing the movie, because I don’t have a good memory of it. This isn’t just due to a faulty memory on my part, but I also had a hard time understanding the film as a whole. In my view, the film does seems to meander a bit, and I’m not sure there are one or two ideas that tie them together–beyond a really general theme like racism in America.

  71. Reid

    Miles Ahead (2016)
    Dir. Don Cheadle

    Bio-pic of Miles Davis. The film is built on the following plot-structure: Davis is in retirement (mid-70s), but he has a recording that he is supposed to submit to Columbia records. A Rolling Stones reporter (Ewan MacGregor) is seeking an interview with Davis. In the process, Davis loses possession of the (recorded) music, and the journalist helps him retrieve the music. In the process we have flashbacks to earlier periods of Davis’s life.

    For me, the structure didn’t work very well, mainly because of the interactions between Davis and the journalist, specifically the level of comfort and trust that Davis gives to him. I think this may have also contributed to making the structure feel contrived.

    The other point I’d make: if you’ve seen other Davis documentaries or read books on him, I don’t think this film adds much.

    Finally, I like music documentaries that provide insights into the music and music making process. This film doesn’t really do that in my opinion.

    A few thoughts about the central themes in this film. I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but off the top of my head, I’d Davis was passionate about two things: music and Frances Taylor, who became Davis’s (second? wife). Part of the film’s point may have been to show the extent to which Davis (or great artists in general) would go through for their art. A part of me wonders if the film is trying to use Frances as a representation of this passion or a point of reference perhaps. I tend not to think that’s the case at this point.

  72. Reid

    Icarus (2017)
    Dir. Bryan Fogel

    I tend to think going in blind would be best, or knowing as little as possible. While I would be a little surprised if any of the idiots love this film, I would recommend it to most of them. That is, I think it’s worth watching and most would find this mildly interesting, at least.

    OK, but here’s more information about the film, if you need it. Fogel is a amateur cyclist, and he enters a grueling seven day race. Suspicious that cyclists that finish in the top ten are using PEDs, Fogel decides to use PEDs and get help in evading the tests–proving that the testing is totally ineffective.

    If that doesn’t sound interesting enough, and you need more information, here it is: In the process, Fogel meets a Russian official in charge of anti-doping testing. He agrees to help Fogel evade the tests. As the film goes on, we learn about the way the Russian state has been involved with giving their athletes PEDs–and, more recently, how Putin has been involved in this, including covering this up.

    The film is fascinating because I think it reveals a larger MO and essential nature of the Putin regime specifically. Namely, they will cheat, deceive, lie and use almost any means to achieve their objectives, in a over-the-top Machiavellian way. This was just for the Olympics, but you can see similar patterns in politics, how they deal with other countries as well.

    Edit (10/26/2017)

    Could Lawfare podcast about the film (focusing on Russian politics).

  73. Mitchell

    The Martian (2015)
    Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristin Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover. Written by Drew Goddard (based on the novel by Andy Weir). Directed by Ridley Scott.

    U.S. astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, presumed dead by his team who has aborted its mission and fled the planet. Watney figures his best shot for rescue is to rendez-vous with the next mission in four years, but he’s only got one year’s worth of food. What follows is a classic man vs. the elements survival story, but with the added element of serious problem-solving with life-or-death stakes.

    Survival stories are great, but they tend to be one physical challenge after the next. In The Martian, Matt Damon plays a man confronted not only with literally alien terrain on a planet where he is the only human, but with a succession of seemingly impossible puzzles. In the face of one such problem, he explains in the video journal he’s keeping that he needs to “science the **** out of this.” Damon is a pleasure to watch as always, but the problem-solving by Watney, NASA, and the rest of Watney’s team perked me up and had me riveted through each of (so far) three viewings of this movie.

    Damon is unquestionably the film’s greatest strength, but there’s a lot more to recommend it. The planet itself is a mind-blowing beauty to behold, mostly stoic and still, but menacing just by not being Watney’s home. The score by Harry Gregson-William is fantastic, communicating the stillness and loneliness of space while giving enough room for Damon to emote without manipulating the audience. This is what a film score should do.

    Acting by others in the cast is solid. Jessica Chastain, Donald Glover, and Mackenzie Davis (whom I had not heard of until now) put in especially good performances. I keep forgetting how much I like Jessica Chastain as an actress.

    Some viewers might think not enough is explained in this science-fiction: there are a lot of never-defined acronyms and some of the science is shown without any elaboration, as when Watney performs some surgery on himself using surgical tools I don’t think we’ve seen before. I’d argue that the film explains enough, and any more would bog things down. The film finds a good balance here, although I can see why some would disagree.

    A very good film, one I will probably have to purchase because I can’t see myself tiring of it.


  74. Reid

    I haven’t seen The Martian, but I’ve been mildly interested. 88/100. Whoa!

  75. Mitchell

    You’ll think it’s decent.

  76. Mitchell

    The Hot Rock (1972)
    Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn, Zero Mostel. Written by William Goldman (based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake). Directed by Peter Yates.

    The Hot Rock opens with John Dortmunder (Robert Redford) going through the procedures for his release from prison. It’s clear he knows what he’s doing and that he’s done this before. The warden, with whom Dortmunder is on a first-name basis, says something to the effect of “See you again,” which the newly free man does not dispute, although he does claim to be rehabilitated. “You couldn’t really go straight?” asks the warden.

    “My heart wouldn’t be in it, Frank,” Dortmunder responds coolly. It’s a good establishing scene for this character, who isn’t out a day before his brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal in an excellent supporting role) lets him in on a job. Dortmunder is a pro who seems to be careful about what he gets into, so he resists at first, but he takes the challenge of stealing a precious diamond on behalf of an African nation who claims it was taken from them generations ago.

    What follows is a charming steal-the-diamond, lose-the-diamond, find-the-diamond caper flick about Dortmunder and his three handpicked cohorts. It would be ho-hum stuff if not for Redford’s and Segal’s charisma and a few touches that make it go down easier for a guy like me. Yes, there are explosions and hot pursuits and guys knocking out cops so they can take their uniforms (which fit perfectly, of course), but in one car chase, the passengers are clearly (but subtly) terrified, and in a helicopter scene, the same passengers look like they’re about to throw up. It’s guided with a light hand and a light sense of humor without tilting over into silliness.

    At 100 minutes, it’s about the right length for a story like this, but it still feels a little draggy to me in several places. It could have been a really tight 90 minutes or a more interesting 100 minutes. There’s no real character development beyond Dartmunder’s seemingly unflappable demeanor, which is not everything he lets on, and there’s no emotional stuff at all.

    Enjoyable enough if you happen to come across it, ‘though maybe not something worth pursuing. The source novel is the first of a popular long series, and I would have been down to see what these guys get into next, in a sequel. Christopher Guest (whom I could not locate) and Charlotte Rae have small roles.


  77. Mitchell

    From Wikipedia, a list of film featuring John Dortmunder as main character:

    • The Hot Rock (1972) stars Robert Redford as Dortmunder.
    • Bank Shot (1974) stars George C. Scott as Dortmunder, who was renamed “Walter Upjohn Ballentine” for the film.
    • Come ti rapisco il pupo (1976), based on Jimmy the Kid, stars Teo Teocoli as the Dortmunder character, renamed “Elia.”
    • Jimmy the Kid (1982) stars Gary Coleman as Jimmy, and Paul Le Mat as Dortmunder.
    • Why Me? (1990) stars Christopher Lambert as Dortmunder, renamed “Gus Cardinale.”
    • Jimmy the Kid (1999) is a German film that stars Herbert Knaup as Dortmunder.
    • What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (2001) stars Martin Lawrence as Dortmunder, renamed “Kevin Caffery”. The film also stars Danny DeVito.
  78. Reid

    I’m assuming they’re different characters. That is weird, in any event.

  79. Mitchell

    No, they’re the same character, based on this writer’s novels. Like all the different portrayals of Philip Marlowe (sixteen actors), James Bond (thirteen actors), Tarzan (twenty-two actors), and Sherlock Holmes (twenty-five actors just since 2000).

    I found out that the writer of the source novel is also the creator of Parker, the character played by Jason Statham in Parker (which I reviewed here in 2013. Man, twenty-four Parker novels, plus fourteen John Dortmunder novels and eleven more Dortmunder short stories. And that’s not his whole bibliography. Impressive.

  80. Reid

    Yeah, I guess that makes more sense.

  81. Mitchell

    Spider-Man: Homecoming
    Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Kenneth Choi, Tyne Daly, Gwyneth Paltrow. Directed by Jon Watts.

    The hype is deserved. Spider-Man: Homecoming does highlight Peter Parker’s teenaged immaturity, and it does play out like an 80s teen movie with songs by The English Beat and A Flock of Seagulls. Its star, Tom Holland, even has a young Michael J. Fox thing going on and there’s a scene (with a meta video clip) that pays tribute to Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

    And yeah, it’s somehow even fresher a breath of air than The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield seemed when it hit theaters just five years ago. I wrote that Garfield’s swinging through the city seemed more fun than I’d seen it before, and somehow Tom Holland’s seems even more fun than that. Perhaps I’m suffering from a long-running recency bias, because Emma Stone seemed a more heartbreaking love interest than Kirsten Dunst, and Spidey’s new crush, played by Laura Harrier, is even more heartbreaking than Stone.

    If that’s the case, I cannot be the only one. This movie is fun, and it’s funny, and Spidey has a new sidekick named Ned, who’s played by a Filipino American actor from my homestate of Hawaii, and that’s pretty cool too.

    The villain is the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton in kind of a fascinatingly crude costume that’s sneaky agile. Keaton is a fine villain, and good performances by charismatic supporting actors boost the overall quality of the film to a level consistent with the other titles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most notable are Marisa Tomei as a hot Aunt May, Martin Starr as the academic decathlon coach, and Zendaya as a quirky classmate. I don’t know how long he can keep saving movies, but Robert Downey, Jr. holds this one together in a supporting, but almost always spiritually present role as Peter’s mentor. It’s almost unfair, the way he’s really the steadying influence. It leads one to wonder if Holland has what it takes to carry a movie himself.

    Thank goodness we’re spared the origin story in this one, although the movie does run long at two hours and thirteen minutes. I could have done with shorter action sequences, especially the climactic showdown with the Vulture. May I also be among the first to say enough already with the Stan Lee cameos? Enough!

    A fun movie, almost a tonal, thematic opposite to the other huge summer superhero movie I also enjoyed, Wonder Woman.


  82. Mitchell

    I find it interesting, Reid, that you’re okay with Spidey’s web being biological in the Tobey Maguire series, since you feel it makes more sense than for Peter to invent it, but you don’t like Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Doesn’t it make more sense for a fourteen-year-old boy’s mom’s sister to be in her fifties than in her eighties? I love this version of her.

  83. Reid

    The two situations are really different to me.

    Aunt May can be in her fifties, but Tomei has retained her youthful appearance, and has rather girlish looks, on the sexy hot side to boot. In the comics, Aunt May looks like white-haired spinster librarian. And what is achieved by making her appear that way? You could have picked another fifty-year old actress that didn’t look so young and hot. Also, if there were a huge age gap between May and Peter’s mom, would it be that unbelievable if May was in her 80s and Peter was in his teens? (In the comics, I don’t know if May was in her 80s, but she did look like a grandmother.)

  84. Mitchell

    Are they different because one makes sense and the other not as much? Or are they different because the canon should be left alone unless there’s a good reason to alter it?

    I can think of a good reason for May to be younger and sexier, but you’re not going to buy it. The filmmakers clearly went in with an 80s teen movie vibe in mind, and the May-Peter relationship has a lot of the same feeling as Daniel LaRusso’s relationship with his mom. It makes for a more meaningful family life and adds to that 80s vibe.

    By the way, I reread what I wrote and mostly stick by it, but I think I have the relationships wrong. It’s Ben who is Peter’s father’s brother, right? And May is his relation by marriage. Anyway of course it’s not unbelievable that May would be in her 80s, but is her being an old spinster (not a nice description, by the way: she’s a widow) that important to the Spidey universe? I like this relationship better.

    But then I didn’t grow up reading the comics (although I did read a few) so maybe I don’t have the attachment you have. Still, if I had to choose what was more reasonable between May being in her 50s and hot (for a middle-aged woman) or Peter shooting that web out of his wrist because he was bitten by a radioactive spider, I choose Marisa Tomei. I mean, Peter is the smartest kid in his school, and his school is loaded with smart kids. Spiders shoot webs out of their lower abdomens, not their limbs, so if it were biological, it would make more sense for Peter to shoot the webs out of his butt, right?

    Anyway, I can see why you wouldn’t like the Ned character, but every teen protagonist needs a best friend. Ned works for me.

  85. Mitchell

    By the way, do you know about the Netflix Karate Kid series?

  86. Reid

    Are they different because one makes sense and the other not as much? Or are they different because the canon should be left alone unless there’s a good reason to alter it?

    Probably both. The web-shooters that Peter makes is really incredible, both in terms of capabilities of the device and the fact that a teenager made it. The natural webshooters solves this problem in my view, in a way that makes sense. I mean, if getting bit by a spider gives Peter all those incredibly powers, why not the ability to shoot webs, too?

    The filmmakers clearly went in with an 80s teen movie vibe in mind, and the May-Peter relationship has a lot of the same feeling as Daniel LaRusso’s relationship with his mom. It makes for a more meaningful family life and adds to that 80s vibe.Peter is the smartest kid in his school, and his school is loaded with smart kids. Spiders shoot webs out of their lower abdomens, not their limbs, so if it were biological, it would make more sense for Peter to shoot the webs out of his butt, right?

    I think I can live with the inconsistency that the webs come out of the hands more than the improbability that Peter is a genius-level scientist/engineer.

  87. Reid

    Oh, I heard about the Karate Kid TV series. (I read it was going to be on youtube, though.) The premise sounds a bit worrisome–as in a disaster.

  88. Mitchell

    Volver (2006)
    Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. In Spanish with English subtitles.

    The most striking thing about Volver is the nearly complete absence of men. They are present, but only to give the women someone to despise, someone to be admired by, or someone to provide them opportunity. There isn’t any romance, and the only friendship is with a woman so close to the central family she may as well be family. No, this is a movie about family.

    At its center is Raimunda, a 30-ish mom to teenaged Paula. They have a typical mom-teen relationship, arguing over too much time on the cell phone and you-never-tell-me-things-anymore. Raimunda’s husband is a loser from the moment we see him sprawled on the couch finishing his umpteenth beer. He’s not worried about having to get up for work in the morning because he has just been fired and that’s fine with him.

    Raimunda is closest to her sister Sole, who is older by several years and seems to have taken on most of the filial responsibility for their only remaining elder, an aunt named Paula. Aunt Paula is stricken with occasional dementia, and Sole is clearly stressed out with worry. If not for the daily visits and attention by Aunt Paula’s neighbor Agustina, either Raimunda or Sole would have to take their aunt in, a move which they are on the verge of making anyway.

    There are unspoken tensions between all the women in this family, and writer-director Pedro Almodóvar gives us plenty of time to try and figure them out. Disagreements pop up about seemingly inconsequential issues, but little hints are dropped in the dialogue. Did someone go away for a time? Was there a division in the family? It might feel like something of a puzzle except we don’t have enough to piece anything together. Instead, we are carried along while these women sort through their tensions.

    It might also feel like a tease, but the director is establishing believable relationships so that when we and the characters are confronted with the naked truth, their responses are real.

    I have a couple of major issues with the direction here. Anyone who’s discussed movies with me for thirty minutes knows that I’m fine with film as a medium for the appreciation of women’s beauty. The world is a beautiful place, and film is a visual domain, and why not use it to celebrate all the many ways women are beautiful? Yet Almodóvar appreciates his actresses in a way that’s intrusive on our experience with the world he creates. For example, in one scene where Raimunda is washing dishes, we are confronted suddenly with an unexplained overhead shot that points right into Penélope Cruz’s cleavage. It’s not a POV shot, since nobody’s watching her from the ceiling, and it does nothing for the scene except to say, look at this gorgeous cleavage.

    Cruz is a stunning woman with enormous eyes, a lippy smile, and yes, physical endowments that two of the female characters in the movie even comment on. But we have multiple opportunities to see them in context, the way the characters see them, and this isn’t one of those movies whose viewers are paying specifically to see breasts. Those movies are fine, and I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share, but everything in its time and place, you know?

    I’ll add that Almodóvar takes it a little too far in showing us young Paula as well, although clearly not in a gratuitous way. These are POV shots, and they are important to the story, although they don’t just make a point: they make a point and then highlight, star, and underline it, and it’s just too much. Thankfully, while the character is in her teens, the actress was in her 20s when this was filmed, so it doesn’t creep over into borderline illegal territory.

    My second major problem is a scene where Raimunda sings a song, and Cruz is lip-syncing to a track that’s so obviously not Raimunda’s voice that the scene is almost unwatchable. A horrible decision.

    Still, a good movie with some fine acting and a look and feel you don’t get every day in American film. Madrid seems to be colored with a completely different box of crayons from the one we have in our American stores. The sunlight, wind, and sky all seem like they’re a different world, and it’s rather a lovely world to be part of for two hours. Oh, and not a movie for kids. There are themes of sexual assault, so approach with caution if you’re sensitive.


  89. Mitchell

    If You Are the One (2008)
    Ge You, Shu Qi, Vivian Hsu, Gong Xinliang. Written and directed by Feng Xiaogang. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

    Qin Fen is a middle-aged bachelor, newly rich thanks to a silly invention he’s sold the rights to. With no need to work anymore, he places a personal ad in search of a wife, very specifically outlining what he wants (modern on the outside; traditional on the inside) and doesn’t want (no female entrepreneurs), while providing details of his own strengths and weaknesses (honed survival skills but not very good-looking).

    We’re very quickly treated to one of those parades of candidates, none of which are very promising. One respondent is a gay man, another only meeting guys to guilt them into buying cemetary plots. Qin Fen’s doesn’t feel the need to pretend about anything, so he’s very direct in these meet-ups about what he likes and doesn’t like about these potential spouses. He doesn’t have time to play the dating game, so he’s quick to rule out those who simply aren’t what he’s looking for.

    Because of his lack of pretension, and because he has a wry, understated sense of humor, he kind of hits it off Platonically with Liang Xiaoxiao, the first of his respondents who is truly beautiful (she rates herself a 6; he says she’s a 9). She’s a flight attendant, and this is her first attempt at meeting someone through the personals. While she’s also direct about what she’s looking for, she has a softspoken, detached way of speaking, like she’s distracted by something going on beyond Qin’s field of vision. They decide rather quickly that he’s not what she’s looking for. But he makes her laugh, and if they aren’t meant to be lovers, they seem well-suited for friendship.

    If You Are the One is a film about how this relationship evolves, and because of Liang’s complications it is sometimes painful to watch, and because of Qin’s likeability it is also fun. They make each other laugh, and they drive each other kind of crazy. It’s neat how the ground rules are set from the moment of their meeting: they will be honest with one another. In a way this honesty is the obstacle, as they tell each other things we think of as stuff you don’t talk about early in a relationship. In another, it allows them to develop a genuine fondness for each other, something American romantic comedies often avoid, choosing instead for some kind of deception or misconception to define the early stages of romance.

    This is a cute, sweet movie with actors I really enjoy, and I look forward to seeing its sequel.


  90. Mitchell

    Talk to Her (2002)
    Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Spanish with English subtitles.

    Here’s something you don’t see every day.

    Benigno is a nurse who never leaves Alicia’s side, talking to her, sharing details of the dance performance he saw the other night, giving Alicia massages, and washing her hair. He’s been at it a while, tending to her while she’s in a coma, so he is quick to befriend a new arrival, to give (usually unheeded) advice to someone in a similar situation.

    Marco is a writer who meets a famed woman bull fighter. He’s intrigued by her story, and although she is at first not at all interested in speaking with him for a profile, he does something heroic and they become lovers.

    If I’ve learned one lesson in my years of watching admittedly not that many western European films but probably more than most of my countrypeople, it’s that love is justification enough for just about anything. And if you’re watching a Spanish movie where the love is established early in the film, the anything is soon to show up, and it’s probably unlike any anything you’ve already seen, even in other films by the same director.

    Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her seems to challenge my assumptions. Does love justify anything? Well how about this, and how about this? I’m being vague for a good reason, so I’ll say no more about the story and add that the performances of the two leads, Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti, are just excellent, especially Grandinetti who plays Marco. His stoic coolness given to tears at moments of great beauty are the sexiest thing in this movie, and there are nude women in this film.

    There is a moment where Marco loses his cool, yelling at Benigno not to do something Benigno says he wants to do, and to see all of Marco’s passion come out this way in this moment is admirable. It makes you kind of fall in love with him except that you’re already in love with him.

    As in Volver, there are a couple of moments that make me wonder if Almodóvar has an eccentric alter ego who takes over the controls on the film for a day or two here and there. There is a scene from a black-and-white silent film whose imagery made me say (aloud, when nobody else was around), “Why is he showing us this?” and soon after a close-up shot of a lava lamp that made me say, “Are you even serious?”

    But this is a movie about love, and I almost love this movie, so I’m going to forgive Almodóvar those moments, because a director who shows you stuff you’ve never seen and makes you go “Wow” is going to also make you say “What the heck?” once in a while. Also because love is ample justification for just about anything.


  91. Reid

    Talk to Her was one of my favorite movies of that year, and it’s probably my favorite Almodovar film (although I haven’t really seen a lot. My rating would be similar to yours.

    Volver was entertaining enough. I would describe it as Almodovar’s Lifetime network movie.

  92. Mitchell

    I don’t know why I’m kind of hooked on Almodovar after these two films but I kind of am. Also, I know what you mean about Volver (I read your review), but I think you’re selling it a bit short. The story may be something like a Lifetime movie, but the production value and acting are miles above that level. And even the story is a bit edgy for Lifetime. Are there a lot of themes of incest on that network?

    I’m midway through All About My Mother and so far I’m digging it.

  93. Mitchell

    Krush Groove (1985)
    Blair Underwood, Sheila E, Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys, Kurtis Blow, New Edition, LL Cool J, Rick Rubin.

    Krush Groove is a fictionized telling of the early days of Def Jam Records, surrounded by a fictional story of real-life people. Blair Underwood plays Russell Walker, the film’s version of Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, but Joseph “Run” Simmons plays the fictional version of himself, Run Walker. It’s a little weird, but don’t overthink it because this is a film that doesn’t want to be overthought.

    What it does want, at least when viewed thirty-two years after its release by a forty-eight-year-old music lover is to elicit nostalgia for a time when the slate was still kind of blank, to inspire sadness at the losses of Jam Master Jay and the Human Beat Box and Adam Yauch, to be compared favorably to the other hip-hop films of the mid-Eighties, and to makeme appreciate the music a bit more than I might have at sixteen

    Krush Groove Records can’t keep up with demand for its hip hop records, so Russell borrows money from a big-time hustler. When the stars of his label jump ship to a big-time label, Russell finds himself in big trouble, unable to pay back the hustler. Run, who’s competing with his brother for the affections of Sheila E, is unsympathetic but of course they make up, thanks to intervention by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. It’s not that good a story, but the movie is in the spaces between.

    One of my complaints about Beat Street was that the music all sounded canned, completely out of reality in what were supposed to be live performances. I don’t know if they recorded the live tracks live in this film, but it sounds like it most of the time. The Run-DMC tracks sound harder than the versions in my iTunes. They sound live, too, when they’re performing on stage. This is a huge improvement, and it improves performances of the Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J. The treatment isn’t given to New Edition or Sheila E, which is a disappointment because I love the way Sheila E sounds live, and the lip-syncing scenes are low points.

    I never cared much for early LL Cool J or any Fat Boys, but I really dug them in this movie, so I’m going to check them out soon with new ears. The film does a nice job of making almost everyone sound better than I remember them. A fun, entertaining trip back.


  94. Reid


    I didn’t describe Volver as a Lifetime Network movie in a pejorative sense. I was mainly thinking about the content. There are good movies that would be appropriate for that channel. For example, many of Rodrigo Garcia’s films would be great. (As for films dealing with incest, I’d be surprised if the didn’t have movies that dealt with that.)

  95. Reid

    Dunkirk (2017)
    Dir. Christopher Nolan]

    I’m guessing many idiots will think this is OK at the very least. It’s hard to know who will like it a lot more than that.

    The film focuses on the evacuation of the British (and French and Belgium?) armies at the beaches of Dunkirk during WWII. Without going into a lot of detail, the Nazi’s basically drove and hemmed in the armies at Dunkirk. My understanding is that while the British had the Naval resources to evacuate the armies, after the Nazis destroyed most of the ports, the British ships couldn’t get close enough to shore. This lead to another plan of sending civilian and commercial vessels that could get closer to the beaches, to ferry the soldiers over to the boats. The Brits also had to contend with the Nazi Luftwaffe (air force) and submarines. It’s an incredible story, particularly the way the civilian boats were used to save the men. (I believe 300,000 soldiers were saved.)

    To tell, this story, Nolan comes up with an interesting approach and concept–one that if he pulled off could really make the movie. I’ll say more about this in the third section, as it’s kind of a spoiler. I will say, here, that I don’t think Nolan was completely successful.

    One other thing I’d mention, something that appeals to me. The film sort of comes close to be silent movie, or could have been.

    Finally, I’d make one comparison to describe the film. Think of the landing at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan, expanded into one film. That’s sort of what’s going on in this one, although the filmmaking, in my opinion, isn’t as good. (I would have loved to have seen Spielberg direct this movie.)


    One of the key ideas is to break up the story into three sections–one involving the soldiers on the beach, another focusing on two British fighter pilots and their air battles, and finally one tiny, private boat run by a father, son, and neighbor. The really interesting part is that each section occurs within a different duration of time–the beach scenes span a week; the private ship, a day; and the pilots, one hour. The cool thing is that each three sections eventually coverage so that they’re occurring at the same time!

    To me, it didn’t totally work because what was going on wasn’t completely clear. Maybe if I watch it again, the film will make more sense.

  96. Mitchell

    Man, that third section isn’t a spoiler. Most of the reviews I saw gave that away, and that by itself made me more likely to see the film. Well, not the convergence. But that’s not a spoiler either.

  97. Reid

    I would guess a lot of people wouldn’t consider that a spoiler, but it’s something I would want to discover for myself. On the other hand, if I had no interest in seeing the film, it is something that might make me see it.

  98. Mitchell

    I think your last point is valid. It’s the kind of thing that might make you want to see it if you weren’t otherwise interested. And I don’t honestly think you’d feel the movie had been spoiled by that detail, even knowing you’d prefer to find that out yourself.

    War films were once among my favorite genres, especially when I was a kid. I’m kind of tepid about them now, and since I have no connection to the Dunkirk situation, the subject alone isn’t enough to get me there. Nor the director. But that detail kind of is, although it’s still pretty far down the list for me.

  99. Reid

    And I don’t honestly think you’d feel the movie had been spoiled by that detail, even knowing you’d prefer to find that out yourself.

    It wouldn’t spoil the entire movie for me–that would be too strong, especially nowadays, as I less enthusiastic about movies. In the past, though, it would be something I wish I didn’t know, and knowing this would bug me.

  100. Reid

    Wind River (2017)
    Dir. Taylor Sheridan
    Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene etc.

    I’d recommend this, at least mildly, to Joel, Don, Mitchell, Penny, and Marc. Larri like this, for what it’s worth.

    A murder of a young girl occurs on a Wyoming Native American lands. An FBI agent (Olsen) comes in to investigate, enlisting the help of a hunter/tracker (Renner) and tribal sheriff (Greene).

    To me, it’s a very good TV movie for a slow Saturday night. It’s not outstanding, but very satisfying if you’re in the mood for this type of movie.

    I liked Renner in this role, a hunter modified into the lone gunslinger role. He may not be well-drawn (Olsen’s character is a mere sketch), but I found him satisfying.

    Sheridan also wrote Hell or High Water. In addition to both films being modern Westerns, both films also inject a bit social issues into the film–this one dealing with disappearances of Native American women, and the other about the way bank are hurting poor farmers.

  101. Mitchell

    My 11th-grade English teacher showed us One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but I haven’t seen it since, so I’m watching it this week. I saw the first half last night and hope to see the rest this evening.

    It’s interesting to me how I see things differently. Nurse Ratched isn’t an old bag, as I thought when I saw this in 1985. She’s middle-aged and pretty. And at least for the first hour, she’s mostly got the best interest of her patients — even McMurphy — in mind.

    McMurphy isn’t just a trouble-maker. More than anything, at least so far, he seems to get these other patients, to see them as real people with real needs like the rest of us, like he sees an unmet need in them as humans, a need that the hospital isn’t addressing. Connectivity, if that makes sense, in a way that the therapy groups only pretend to address. And the other patients are responsive, something I don’t think I noticed the first time. I mean, I know what Chief is going to do at the end, and I remember how he sorta happily runs back on D when he plays basketball, but I didn’t see it in the other patients, this kind of coming out they do, as a result of being treated by McMurphy.

    He’s actually sweet. I’m dreading seeing the rest of the film because I know what happens.

  102. Mitchell

    Oh, also some neat connections I didn’t think about in 11th grade. Jack Nicholson and Scatman Crothers were also in The Shining together, and Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito were also in Taxi.

  103. Mitchell

    I finished rewatching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and geez, what a great movie. My Criticker rating of it, based on my memory from eleventh grade, is 78. Reid has it at 68, but it’s in both our sixth tiers. My score is definitely going up once I think about it a little and write my review.

    I’m trying to think of a good antiestablishment movie I’ve seen recently that resonates so much with me, and I’m drawing a blank. Call it recency bias. But still. Nicholson is amazing in this, but so are most of the other actors. The ending is more of a downer than I remember, but I also feel better about it than I remember.

    They like to get you in a compromising position
    They like to get you there and smile in your face
    They think they’re so cute when they got you in that condition
    Well I think it’s a total disgrace
    I fight authority; authority always wins
    I fight authority; authority always wins
    I been doing it since I was a young kid
    I’ve come out grinnin’
    I fight authority; authority always wins…

    It’s a stupid video, but I do love this song.

  104. Reid

    Terrorizers (1986)
    Dir. Edward Yang

    I’d probably recommend this to Kevin. I think Penny and Grace would be interested; Mitchell, too, but I’m less sure.

    Chinese (Hong Kong?) drama, focusing a married couple’s disintegrating relationship. In my view the story and themes are fairly well-worn, covering similar terrain from films like The Ice Storm or Amercian Beauty and probably many more.

    While the film focuses on one couple, there are peripheral characters that cross paths with each other. But again, this isn’t really that important or interesting, at least to me.

    The most interesting aspect of the film involves the filmmaking itself, particularly the composition and editing. On that alone, I’m eager to watch more of Yang’s films. Previously, I watched Yi-yi, and I liked that film for similar reasons. I think of Ozu when both films.


    On side note, with the female delinquent, Yang seemed to be going after the Jean Seaberg character in Breathless, specifically the pairing a girlish beauty with a mysterious, darker edge. The look was also similar.

  105. Mitchell

    You frequently mention The Ice Storm and American Beauty in the same sentence whenever you talk about films whose themes touch on disillusionment with suburban life, and it makes sense, but I think you may have missed the bigger point of The Ice Storm, which is about so much more.

    It’s a film about the sexual revolution and the Pill, and what the free love movement did to relationships, and how it affected the generation immediately after (that is, you and me). The suburban slant may be well-trod territory, but I can’t think of many good films that really look critically at what free love did to the country. That’s a nobler effort than just its suburban setting might give it credit for.

  106. Reid

    but I think you may have missed the bigger point of The Ice Storm, which is about so much more.

    I didn’t mean to imply that those films were only about dissatisfaction and disillusionment. The comparison was meant to give a readers a ballpark about Terrorizers. If we look deeper, we could find more ideas and themes in each film.

    That’s a nobler effort than just its suburban setting might give it credit for.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the films, but did you take my comments as disparaging and dismissive? I thought my comments were pretty neutral, and I meant it as such.

  107. Mitchell

    Yeah, they weren’t dismissive this time, but they have been in the past. I just haven’t said anything until now. 🙂

  108. Reid

    Yeah, both those films didn’t really blow me away, and I felt they were a bit overrated. I should revisit Ice Storm. I’ll let you know if I do.

  109. Mitchell

    Terms of Endearment (1983)
    Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, John Lithgow, Jeff Daniels, Danny DeVito. Written by James L. Brooks (based on the novel by Larry McMurtry). Directed by James L. Brooks.

    If you don’t know already that Terms of Endearment is a tear-jerker, I’ve just spoiled that aspect for you, but that’s all I’ll spoil. I swear. It’s all I knew about the film, aside from its status as a beloved, decorated movie based on a novel by Larry McMurtry. I almost forgot that as I laughed my way through the first half, but of course it was always kind of hanging over everything, so that the laughter felt borrowed, like collateral against what I know is coming, even though I didn’t really know what was coming.

    Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson are wonderful, Nicholson at his brashest and crassest, MacLaine at her most uptight and most mischievous. In the years following this film, Nicholson often played characters who were exaggerations of this persona, so it’s nice to see it at what I imagine is peak Nicholson. MacLaine, too, seems to have been given over-the-top, eccentric old-lady roles based on her character here (with the most notable exception her great work in Bernie), and it’s possible this is peak MacLaine as well. Their back-and-forth by itself is worth the rental price.

    The Nicholson-MacLaine dynamic relegates Debra Winger to supporting status, even though she’s really the central actress. Her relationship with her mother seems to be the center of the film, but I had difficulty figuring Winger’s character out. It’s difficult to figure out why she does the things she does, and the story doesn’t convince us enough one way or another whether it’s because of her mother, because of her husband (Jeff Daniels), or because of a quirky, free-spirit personality. It’s really the film’s weakness, and it’s a disappointment because Winger herself is quite good.

    Here’s a mini shout-out to John Lithgow, whose pathetic bank manager character is so well performed that I wanted to see a movie about him and his family.

    Terms of Endearment is a good movie, totally worth seeing again and possibly again for its solid performances and the joy of Nicholson and MacLaine. Its problem is that it toys with greatness and doesn’t give enough of an effort to get there.


  110. Reid

    Its problem is that it toys with greatness and doesn’t give enough of an effort to get there.

    Not a bad way to describe James L. Brooks as a filmmaker.

  111. Mitchell

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
    Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Will Sampson, Brad Dourif. Written by Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman (based on the novel by Ken Kesey). Directed by Miloš Forman.

    I first saw Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in eleventh grade, when my Modern American Fiction teacher taught a unit on antiheroes. I liked it rather a lot, but I’ve seen a lot of movies in the years since, and in 1986 I was unaware of this film’s status as one of the greatest of all time. Since I didn’t remember it being quite that terrific, I thought I’d see it again, interested in how my views might have changed. Also, my father recently spent a week in a hospital and I remember warning him to be cooperative lest they assign Nurse Ratched to him. He responded, “I believe I’ve already been introduced to her.” And because I couldn’t remember much about her, I thought I should give it a look.

    Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is transferred from an Oregon prison, where he is serving time for statutory rape, to a mental institution, where he hopes to serve the rest of his sentence in relative ease. He has faked symptoms of mental illness, so from the moment he arrives he carries an air of being above the fray.

    McMurphy quickly stirs up some trouble, pushing back against some of the administrative policy and treatment procedure. Although he says he’s there to cooperate, he butts heads with Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who is strict about routine and who tolerates very little nonsense from the patients, who seem to be afraid of her. McMurphy sees that the patients—many of whom are there of their own volition and can leave any time they want—are being suppressed by routine and policy, that Ratched’s rules keep them from being fully men, which many are willing to accept. He seems bent on circumventing her emasculating treatment and awakening their dormant manhood. Looking past their aberrant behaviors, McMurphy connects with his fellow patients as human beings, and this connection has a more therapeutic effect than any of Ratched’s sharing groups, curfews, or medications.

    I’m interpreting this my way, of course, and perhaps someone else might see things differently, depending on his or her views of establishment and rebellion, or order and chaos, or established ways and new ways, or the government and the people. There’s a lot of room for all of that and I don’t think my takeaway is necessarily right.

    And that’s what makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a great film. Yes, there are stellar performances by everyone involved (it was nominated for nine Oscars and won five, including awards for Forman, Nicholson, and Fletcher). Forman definitely has something to say, but he presents his case in such a way that even if you agree with all the evidence, you might come away with a different verdict, because for all her steely-spined primness, Ratched does seem to have the patients’ interests at heart.

    Why don’t these patients exercise their right to leave if they believe they’re being repressed? Maybe they’ve been misled or maybe the safety of the hospital is exactly what they need, however that safety might be provided. And in the film’s climactic moment, McMurphy orders something that would easily be defined today as rape, something we can’t just wave away, especially given his criminal history.

    The film has its flaws for sure. It shoots for some big-picture stuff that it can’t quite hit, but it’s an admirable effort. Restrict it to big ideas in a smaller-picture view, and it works a lot better. Less universalism and more here’s-an-examplism is probably the better way to apply it.

    I was deeply moved by this film, in a way I was not at age sixteen. The performances are amazing and the themes are provocative. And while I see Nicholson as much more than a rebel, now that I am older than the character he plays, I also see Ratched not as an old bag, but as a pretty, middle-aged, hard-working social worker, now that I’m around her age. It makes me wonder what other films, viewed by my teenaged self, need to be watched with my middle-aged eyes.


    I’m actually kind of undecided on a rating, but I’m pretty sure it’s not higher than 90.

  112. Mitchell

    All About My Mother (1999)
    Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz, Candela Peña. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. In Spanish and Catalan, with English subtitles.

    This one caught me slightly off guard. Although it’s emotionally overwrought and in some places overdone, there’s a sincerity in the characters and a gentleness of spirit that had me attached to characters I would normally have found barely tolerable. I’m developing a few issues with Pedro Almodóvar, but I keep going back for more of his rather different filmmaking language and his genuine sympathy for his characters.

    In All About My Mother, Manuela returns from Madrid to Barcelona, in search of the father of her son. She meets Rosa, a young nun who works in a shelter for battered prostitutes who has problems with her family and her convent, and she is reunited with an old friend, Agrado. Agrado is a transsexual prostitute who’s tough, witty, and sensitive. His affection for Manuela and Rosa, and their affection for him, are the glue holding this film together. Agrado has an amazing scene where he performs an impromptu one-person show for a raucus crowd disappointed at not getting the performance of A Streetcar Named Desire it has paid for, but Agrado’s charm and sense of humor win the house over, and they win the viewer over as well.

    Cecila Roth as Manuela is a chin-up, eyes-ahead, Mary-Tyler-Moore-like character, a woman who knows who she is and seems ready to handle whatever the world is ready to throw at her. And the world does its best to beat her into submission. Some of this is difficult to watch, but Roth’s performance is very good. You’d be friends with a woman like Manuela.

    As I wrote in my review of Volver, one thing you learn from Spanish films is that love is reason enough. This theme is highlighted here: not only is it reason enough to do the silly, crazy things you do, but it’s reason enough to keep going when the world conspires to stop you. I wouldn’t call this an uplifting movie, but there’s a note of hope that makes me feel pretty good.


  113. Mitchell

    Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
    Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte. Written and directed by Woody Allen.

    Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose is low-key bizarre, filled with jokes that aren’t very funny and situations that are more uncomfortable or weird than they are comical, but somehow Allen creates a character in Danny Rose who is pathetic, sweet, miserable, and (this is the most important part) heroic in a mundane, pitiful way. I almost couldn’t wait for it to be over, but when it was over I was awash with sadness for a character I wasn’t sure I even cared for.

    In the film’s opening scene, Danny Rose is being remembered by a group of comedians gathered for lunch in Carnegie Deli. It’s unclear whether these men are his friends or just some guys who knew him, but while nobody seems to be heartbroken about his death, there’s certainly no animosity as they share their stories.

    They remember Danny the talent agent as a shmoe, a guy who gets taken advantage of, a guy who can’t seem to get a break, a guy who keeps trying when it’s clear to everyone else that he’s doomed to failure. He takes Lou Carnova, an aging lounge lizard, as his new client, and things seem like they’re about to work out for him. There’s a nostalgic wave of retro appreciation for this kind of music, and Carnova gets a chance to perform for Milton Berle, who may be interested in taking him on tour. But Lou’s mistress Tina causes problems when she refuses to show up with Danny for the show. There follows a pursuit by gangsters and a completely unbelievable sort of bonding between Tina and Danny.

    Way in the background of this ridiculous story is something else, something I originally described but just deleted because it wouldn’t be fair to give it away. But it is the reason this movie exists, and when Danny does something improbable near the end, it’s completely believable and we want it to happen because of something we most likely didn’t pay much attention to.

    It’s an act of storytelling I’ve never seen before: a whole movie explained and redeemed by one scene involving something seemingly unimportant. It leads me to think I missed something earlier in the film, perhaps multiple somethings. It feels almost O. Henry-like in the way it catches you off-guard, only it’s not a Henryesque twist. Rather, it seems to say we’ve been looking so closely for one meaningless thing about Danny Rose that we missed the really important stuff about him, that we watched a movie one way and missed what it actually is.

    Or maybe that’s just me. Still, when a movie affects you in a way no movie ever has, something brilliant could be going on. I’m not ready to call this a brilliant movie, but it’s so much better than I expected, and possibly better than I deserved.


    PS: I forgot to mention Mia Farrow, who’s pretty fantastic in her performance as Tina. I don’t know much about Farrow the actress, but she surprised me too.

  114. Reid

    Wheelman (2017)
    Dir. Jeremy Rush
    Starring: Frank Grillo, etc.

    I think Joel, Don, many others would like this, not a lot, maybe, but they would find this entertaining (as long as they don’t have big expectations).

    This is about a getaway driver whose hired to a do a job that goes awry. Once you get to the end of the film, knowing the full picture of the plot, I suspect you’ll think the story is maybe a little better than OK. It’s one of those satisfying Saturday night movies, when you watch a TV movie because you have nothing better to do.

    There are several other good things about the movie that I’ll mention. First, the pacing is good, not necessarily constant action, but there really isn’t any dead spots or wasted film. (The movie is about 80 minutes long.) I liked the opening of the film, and it just kept my attention from there.

    Second, I liked the Grillo as the lead. I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else, but I liked him in this. Finally, I thought the dialogue and acting were realistic.

    You can tell this is film with a limited budget–or a film written with a limited budget in mind. (In this way, the film reminded me of the movie, Locke.)

    By the way, this is one of several films featuring a getaway driver for hire–the most recent being Baby Driver and Drive several years before that. I think all of these films, including Wheelman are inspired by Walter Hill’s The Driver, which may be the best of all of them (or probably the one I liked the best. It was made in 1978, but I think it still stands up quite well.)

  115. Reid

    East Side Sushi (2014)
    Dir. Anthony Lucero

    A single, Latina mother gets a job at a Japanese restaurant and aspires to be a sushi chef. You can sort of guess the directions that the movie will take, and in some cases those guesses will be correct, and in others it will not.

    I’m interested in these stories with different cultures interacting with each other, and that’s one reason the film held my interest.

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