My Memorial Day weekend was pretty packed, so not as much movie time as usual – managed to squeeze in some good ones though:
- X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – This film’s intriguing premise (Oscar Isaac as a millennia-old mega-mutant who’s been awakened and must be stopped!) is slowed down by silly dialogue and the cliche “catching up on where everybody is, before bringing them all together.” We find out how Professor Xavier becomes bald, though! NOT RECOMMENDED.
- Night and Fog (1955) – It’s hard to say you “like” this kind of movie, but this mid-twentieth century nonfiction film (not quite a documentary) is undeniably powerful for its horrifying imagery and introspective narration. RECOMMENDED.
- The Immortal Story (1966) – Unbearably long (at less than an hour) take of a wealthy older man who becomes obsessed with living out an urban legend, by recruiting a young sailor and providing a woman for him to couple with. Everything about this film felt stagnant, from the lifeless dialogue to Orson Welles, at possibly his biggest, perched within his throne. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- Blue Velvet (1986) – Arguably David Lynch’s breakout film, finding his auteur voice as a balance between classic film sensibilities and unsettling surrealism. This loaded crime mystery is hypnotic, dreamy, and sublimely beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- Valley of the Dolls (1967) – Another delightful “so-bad-it’s-good” flick, about three young women in the 1960s who succumb to booze and pills. I got to see this in theaters with an enthusiastic audience, cheering for key moments (wig-pulling) and outrageous dialogue (“You know how bitchy f**s can be”). Not for everyone, but if you love camp this one is REQUIRED.
What did you see last week?
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?
Last week, I saw:
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Possibly the greatest superhero film ever made, this episode features the First Avenger under pressure from a staggering bureaucracy, as the threat of a mysterious figure looms closer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- Carnival of Souls (1962) – Occasionally spooky mystery/horror about a young woman who apparently survives a car accident, then moves to Utah where she is pursued by, and drawn to, the undead. There were some interesting shots, but this mostly felt like typical “B” movie material to me. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- The Good Dinosaur (2015) – I love the most recent Pixar film, and got a ton out of the audio commentary by director Peter Sohn and other members of the creative team. Their discussion of how this film, with less dialogue, presented a greater “acting” challenge for the animators was particularly insightful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – This film clicked with me much better this time around, through its likable characters and now-iconic soundtrack. While this is certainly part of the MCU, it feels so accessible since it starts (mostly) from scratch with (mostly) new characters to the saga. RECOMMENDED.
- Selena (1997) – Well-rounded, terrifically cinematic biopic of the late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. Jennifer Lopez shines in the title role in a deservedly star-making performance. RECOMMENDED.
- Joy (2015) – This played even worse on home video than it did in the movie theaters. The sum of Joy‘s parts is significantly greater than the whole, which is a soppy convoluted mess. The scenes of Joy Magnano at QVC are still cinema magic, however. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- The Jungle Book (2016) – The latest Disney live-action film also improved for me upon a second viewing, with a greater appreciation for the adaptation of narrative elements from the animated classic into live-action. I’m still knocked out by the outstanding visual effects. RECOMMENDED.
- The Revenant (2015) – The worthier winner among the Best Picture nominees, I was reminded how this film is true, challenging, innovative art. Tom Hardy almost steals the show as the monster Fitzgerald, but Leo’s performance acting mostly solo, and pretending to be brutally mauled by a bear, is nothing short of astonishing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
What did you see last week?
Last week, I saw:
- The Avengers (2012) – Epic superhero tale bringing together Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America (each of whom had their own films) with Black Widow and Hawk-Eye to save the world from invaders. It got kind of spacey for me, but I liked how much time we got with Black Widow over the other characters, who we presumably know (if we’ve kept up with the MCU). RECOMMENDED.
- Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967) – Slow-cooking erotic tale about a young woman who falls in love with a middle-aged man, and they spend a lot of the movie in their apartments. Wikipedia says this movie was controversial for its time (which I can understand), but the narrative wasn’t exactly groundbreaking even if its explicit content was. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- The Jungle Book (2016) – Gorgeous visuals bring the classic story to life in a whole new dimension as the jungles of India are animated to spectacular detail. My favorite parts of this film were how it differed from the Disney classic, particularly in the savagery of villain Shere Khan and the sweeping narrative (making it feel more flowing and less episodic). RECOMMENDED.
What did you see last week?
Four days ago I had never heard of The 1975. I was skimming through my pile of Entertainment Weekly issues and stumbled upon a positive review for their new album “I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It.” The description sounded like music I might enjoy, so I gave it a try through Apple Music. I listened to it non-stop at work that day, and that evening I rushed to my nearest Target to buy the physical CD.
“I Like It When You Sleep…” is most often summarized as an ’80s pop throwback, but that takes a bit for granted. It almost feels like a collection of the best genres and sounds of that era, from the Prince-esque groove of “Love Me” and “UGH!”, plus “The Sound” and “This Must Be My Dream” as two of the best Erasure songs never performed by Erasure, not to mention the ethereal, wailing guitars of “Please Be Naked” and “Lostmyhead” that echo The Cure.
That’s not to say The 1975’s record is a series of imitations or even a mere compilations of quality songs – this is a true album, an emotionally guided journey of highs and lows, joys and sorrows. The “shuffle” experience has nothing on listening to “I Like It When You Sleep…” straight through, which transitions beautifully from the moody introspection of the title track into the burgeoning disco pulse of “The Sound,” and the optimism of “This Must Be My Dream” to the longing of “Paris” to the sorrow of “Nana.” This album is not a collection of songs, but an experience to partake in.
You can listen to The 1975’s album here on Apple Music.
This past week took me forever to get through an audio commentary (aka non-chemical sleeping pills) but I got on a better roll afterwards:
- The Graduate (1967) – This movie is still REQUIRED, but the audio commentary by director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh isn’t. It felt like more of a conversation than actually discussing what was taking place onscreen, though I enjoyed learning about the editing/pacing decisions from Nichols.
- Zootopia (2016) – Wonderful political allegory about prejudice and tolerance, disguised as a family film about talking animals. REQUIRED.
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – Essentially, a rehash of Iron Man 1. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- Brooklyn (2015) – My second time with this movie was even more emotional, from a greater understanding of the story and choices our heroine Eilis is facing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
What did you see last week?
It’s almost time!
I didn’t see all the movies I wanted to see by Oscar night (tonight!) but I did a pretty decent job, rounding out the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominees this week.
- V/H/S/2 (2012) – I don’t know why I’m under the spell of these stupid movies. They’re pretty easy to watch, but this one is even worse than the first one. V/H/S/2 is more supernatural-focused, with ghosts and zombies and aliens rather than the human-based evil of the first one. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- Bridge of Spies (2015) – For a movie about international intrigue and the exchange of Cold War spies, holy cow was this boring. The ultimate game of cinematic softball, as not once did this film have any sense of danger or uncertainty. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- The Martian (2015) – My last of this year’s Best Picture nominees. I didn’t like the book, and unfortunately the film adaptation kept the same douchey sense of humor and frustrating, disconnected storytelling. NOT RECOMMENDED.
- The Princess and the Frog (2009) – Magical hand-drawn animated musical about a young woman determined to fight for her dreams. This Disney film is strengthened by its solid soundtrack by Randy Newman and its memorable cast of characters. RECOMMENDED.
- The Witch (2016) – Genuinely spooky tale of a New England family isolated from society and forced to defend themselves against nature, the elements, and ultimately each other. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- Straight Outta Compton (2015) – Strong historical drama about the rise of west coast hip-hop, strengthened by electrifying musical performances. RECOMMENDED.
What did you see last week?
The best horror movies don’t stoop to “jump” moments. They gradually get under your skin and stay in your thoughts, dreams, even nightmares long after the end credits roll. We can’t look away not to subject ourselves to momentary thrills, but to find out what happens – held in the grip of a rich, complicated plot. The best comedies have a funny story, not just script, and the same applies to horror movies: they must have a genuinely frightening story. The Exorcist, The Haunting, and now The Witch are among this company.
The Witch follows a 17th-century New England family who is exiled from their village and builds a modest farmhouse on the edge of the forest. When they arrive to their new home, they get on their knees and pray to God, holding their hands out towards the sky as we creep closer towards the dark woods and ominous voices wail on the soundtrack. It’s unsettling, otherworldly, and scary as hell.
There are lots of great moments, of seemingly un-scary images and plot points that nonetheless crawl under your skin. The oldest son Caleb sneaks more than a few peeks at his sister Thomasin’s developing body. The twins talk to the family’s black goat. Another animal is milked by Thomasin, and from its udders drips blood.
Tragedy after tragedy strikes, culminating these smaller elements into broader brushstrokes of this very dysfunctional Puritan family. Visions and accusations of witchcraft spew like venom as their desperation grows. We don’t know who to trust, and if there even is a witch; but we do know what the family members are doing, which may be just as horrifying.
I’m definitely picking this up on home video, and am eager to re-watch particularly with subtitles. The heavy accents paired with an archaic dialogue, while exquisite to listen to, was at times hard to make out; I confess I had trouble following the action for a while. So if you see this in theaters, definitely keep your ears open – maybe you’ll understand English better than I do!