Weekly Round-Up: May 08-14, 2016

Two weeks ago, I saw:

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Ambitious mega-sequel tying together plot elements from the far reaches of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus introducing charismatic new characters in Scarlet Witch and The Vision. I had some trouble following what was going on but I overall enjoyed it (though I don’t understand how Iron Man can let his tech run wild so many times!). RECOMMENDED.
  • Youth (2015) – I enjoyed this film slightly more this second round, though it could certainly use an editing job. At its best, it’s terrifically emotional even though at times it seems to not know where it’s going. RECOMMENDED.
  • Ant-Man (2015) – If this film had come earlier in the MCU I might have liked it more, but I couldn’t take the “buggy” qualities very seriously. Michael Pena is great as Ant-Man’s friend though, who tells outrageous long-winded stories (which surprisingly drive the plot forward). NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Sorry Winter Soldier, but Civil War is the new greatest superhero movie. A key element to this star-studded affair is the showdown between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, but its core theme that actions have consequences is a mature and complex one, heightening the superhero film to new heights. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Palm Springs Weekend (1963) – Silly teeny bopper flick about college kids who go on vacation to Palm Springs, where they drink booze, gamble, get arrested, and even fall in love. I adore these kinds of movies but acknowledge that they’re not for everybody. RECOMMENDED if you like baby boomer kids getting into trouble.
  • Friday the 13th (1980) – One of the dumbest horror movies to generate its own franchise, I admit I had a terrific time seeing this on a big screen, for the very first time, this past Friday the 13th. It was an outdoor screening at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, where the audience whistled with each love scene and cheered every time a camp counselor was slashed. NOT RECOMMENDED, but this movie is probably REQUIRED if you’re a horror buff.

What did you see two weeks ago? Did you fall victim to Friday the 13th?

Weekly Round-Up: March 20-26, 2016

  • Beach Party (1963) – The one that started it all. Delightful pop musical introducing us to the cast of kids led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in their prime, with a terrific soundtrack featuring the two leads plus Dick Dale and His Del-Tones. This isn’t a masterpiece, but a wholly enjoyable piece of 1960s kitsch. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Thor (2011) – I couldn’t believe how much I liked this movie. The arrogant Norse god Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth, but this “fish out of water” story is consistently endearing and compelling. His brother Loki is my favorite Marvel villain to date, and Natalie Portman also delivers a strong performance as a determined physicist. RECOMMENDED.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) – Still in love with this wacky comedy, one of the sweetest and cleanest movies about very adult subject matter. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • In the Realm of the Senses (1976) – A very dirty movie about very adult subject matter. This round (my third or fourth time watching), the musical moments stuck with me the most, melodies underlying the desperate passion the couple has for one another. RECOMMENDED.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Complex and moving story of a “kid from Brooklyn” becoming a powerful hero. Like Thor, this movie is heightened by strong characters and a layered narrative. RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) – I was reminded why people make fun of this one, but several moments (particularly the “Duel of the Fates” climax) are genuinely thrilling Star Wars moments. Definitely worth watching, even in spite of Mr. Binks. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see four weeks ago??

The Birds (1963)

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most graphic, chilling, and under-appreciated thrillers, The Birds is the mysterious tale of a small North Bay town under attack by birds gone wild. No real explanation is provided, and the film ends without an answer why. But it wouldn’t even matter if it did.

What does matter is how it affects the townspeople, both in turning against one another and how they deal with the bird situation. Themes of sexism and racism are strong undercurrents throughout the story, as the locals fear the birds came along with the wealthy, single yet sexually liberal protagonist who is new in town.

The theme of the changing role of women extends beyond the central avian conflict; the now-archaic term “Birds” used to be a derogatory word for “Women,” which can be seen through the story’s human narrative. There is one male character, and four women swirling around him, competing for his attentions and affections in different ways. At times, the melodrama of this storyline exceeds the drama of the bird action.

The bird sequences, however, are truly terrifying and unforgettable. I saw this film for the first time in theaters tonight, having grown up watching it on home video, and I have rarely had a cinematic experience as intense as this one. Hearing the audio in full stereo, the clicks and squawks of the birds truly envelop the audience as you hear them sweep through the air around you. The violence is actually quite graphic for Hitchcock standards, and the blood pops off the screen in lurid technicolor. This feature also contains one of Hitchcock’s more disturbing images, of children lying helpless on the ground as birds peck them to death.

When compared to Hitchcock’s more accepted masterpieces like Vertigoand Rear Window, The Birds is less impressive; but taken on its own for what it is, an unsettling thrill ride, it does stand out as a triumph of special effects and storytelling.