This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, I didn’t go with any further challenges, although I did end up watching several African-American horror movies, and did my best to take advantage of some temporary streaming service discounts.
Movie #126: Sgt. Stubby (DVD)
This is an accessible and enjoyable animated film, perfect for watching with relatives/ family friends of all ages (older folk interested in history, kids who like dogs and animation.) It has a decent match of animated hijinks and serious subject matter (mustard gas.)
Movie #127/ New Movie #90: The Secret Life of Trees (Movie Theater)
It demonstrates how ordinary nature documentaries have become capable of astounding visual beauty. It’s a decent spotlight on an environmentalist, as well as how how trees operate and coexist as part of a larger ecosystem.
Movie #128/ New Movie #91: The Suicide Squad (Movie Theater)
I haven’t seen the original, but this remains accessible and fun. Stylistically it’s quite interesting, although it gets really dark, even for an R-rated superhero film in a way that isn’t believable or satisfying. There can be a discussion piece about the extent to which the film critic community is okay with movies that have a dark left-wing view of things. That said, some of the stuff does work pretty well. Margot Robbie’s Harleyquinn and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport make for great antiheroes.
Movie #129/ New Movie #92: Extra Ordinary (Showtime)
It’s a decent horror comedy, with a take on ghosts that is both funny and mundane.
Movie #130/ New Movie #93: Stillwater (Theater)
This was a movie that had to tread very carefully given the sensitive subject matter of a middle-aged blue collar white guy investigating suspicious events in France involving people of color and his daughter’s same-sex relationship. Matt Damon provides a good sense of a guy out of his element, who means well but has been a fuckup since long before the movie started. A key development seems a bit derivative of a recent well-regarded film from a similar genre. However, it is a great conversation starter.
Movie #131/ New Movie #94: Red Riding: 1974 (AMC+)
It feels like a 1970s noir. Andrew Garfield is decent as a reporter who gets caught in a messed up conspiracy. Rebecca Hall is better as the tormented survivor. The central mystery is a bit vague, a set-up to a larger trilogy and the bad guys are generic. Still, there are some decent twists at the end.
Movie #132/ New Movie #95: Horror Express (AMC+)
The set is decent, although from an earlier film. The generic horror movie debate about scientific exploration is kinda lame. It’s the type of film that acts as if Christopher Lee should immediately realize a mummy is alive and hunting people on a train.
Movie #133/ New Movie #96: The Green Knight (Theater)
This is a beautiful film that sometimes feels deliberately confusing and unsatisfying, although it works pretty well to get viewers debating what just happened. This is not a film to see cold, given all the references to medieval lore. There’s a sense of people similar to us living in a society that is quite different, where it is natural to see giants or ghosts. There are some excellent tricks with time and possible futures, as it gets to some important questions about honor and meaning.
Movie #134/ New Movie #97: Pandorum (Showtime)
The sci-fi story may have too many high concepts, featuring a race of evolved hunters, people waking from cryogenic sleep with limited memories, an odd form of craziness and the destruction of the Earth. The quality of the twists is inconsistent.
Movie #135/ New Movie #98: The Tomorrow War (Amazon Prime)
This is a time travel sci-fi story by a writer I like, so I should enjoy it. But it’s not good. Part of it is that the aliens aren’t great, kinda like The Quiet Place without the genius sound design or a hook about what makes them interesting. the response to a major event just doesn’t seem right. Twists are predictable and I’m not sure it plays fair. The third act is tonally off, but at least addresses plot induced stupidity when a small group puts the world in danger.
Movie #136/ New Movie #99: Source Code (Showtime)
I checked it out because it was much better reviewed than I thought, and it’s a decent combination of mystery and an ordinary man’s response to an extreme situation. A central twist with the tech is inconsistent with the set-up.
Movie #137/ New Movie #100: Horror Noire (AMC+)
It’s an okay overview of the depictions of African-Americans in horror (and anything that’s meant to scare) from Night of the Living Dead to Get Out. It did encourage me to watch a bunch of the films that were covered, even if this wasn’t particularly compelling as far as documentaries about movies go.
Movie #138/ New Movie #101: Tales From the Hood (Starz)
This is worth checking out just because it’s Twilight Zone stories with a 1990s indie African-American aesthetic, which is not a combination found elsewhere. Good horror anthologies get to the drama and supernatural events faster, which is one reason I enjoy them so much. Here it works to go for a nuanced message than just featuring one story. It can cover the harms of so-called black on black violence as well as racist politicians and police officers. It can sometimes seem ridiculous in the depiction of race, but it did come out at a time when David Duke was a credible candidate for office so some of that is forgivable. The frame story gets around some of the logical inconsistencies.
Movie #139/ New Movie #102: Free Guy (Theater)
It’s a fun sci-fi comedy, similar to Ready Player One (same writer) and The Truman Show, and while it’s not great, it works on the strength of Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer.
Movie #140/ New Movie #103: Blacula (AMC+)
It’s a decent horror movie, with probably the best take on the common trope of a vampire’s love for a reincarnation of his ex. It has some striking images and is interesting as an artifact of the 1970s, although ahead of many other films of the time in the depiction of diverse young professionals.
Movie #141: Monterey Pop (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This is clearly my favorite concert film, and I’ve been thinking about what makes it so effective. The songs are great, with most being decent music videos in their own right. It’s short, although there is additional material available as extras on the Criterion editions for anyone who rightly wants more. It seems more honest than the usual concert film, showing what the festival is like, but also showing when 1960s outdoor concern sound systems aren’t perfect.
Movie #142/ New Movie #104: Ganja & Hess (Showtime)
There is a 1970s indie film vocabulary that is a bit tough to follow, especially in the worldbuilding. Bill Gunn’s style remains experimental even if you do take that into account. The visuals are compelling, and it is thematically rich, with new takes on vampires (technically this is a different monster) and religion.
Movie #143: Kameradschaft / Comradeship (Criterion DVD)
Last time I was disappointed with Eisenstein’s 1930s films due to the propaganda, but I still enjoy this story of workers from different countries uniting for a common class-based goal, so it’s worth considering what makes it different. Part of it is the message is fair. It is important for people from different countries to work together (especially in the context of a film made prior to World War II.) The little stories work. There is actual conflict (IE- French border patrol agents shooting at a German rescue team) and misunderstandings. Most importantly, in addition to impressive sequences, there can be a sense of humor, like when a dramatic scene of young men leaving a village is interrupted by a mom making sure her son has sandwiches.
Movie #144: I, Tonya (Showtime)
Margot Robbie is not the expected lead for a film about someone who falls in love with a guy who calls her pretty, but despite the moral question of casting someone who doesn’t look like her character, she is fantastic, and it fits her persona as an actress (a brash old-fashioned broad.) The film handles ambiguity well to the extent that actions of certain characters remain mysterious. It also has some great villains, including Alison Janney’s trainwreck mother, the idiot who engineers the attack, an abusive husband who may be the victim of unreliable narrators or worse than we believe, and the community of judges. This is a great example of film as an empathy machine, but it doesn’t let the lead off the hook.
Movie #145: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (Criterion DVD)
It’s a grim cold war story of a spy sent to infiltrate an organization, but set up to fail in the effort. It’s a great showcase for Richard Burton’s British world weariness; he’s like an English Bogart and it’s quite effective here. It takes a while to get going, but the end is powerful.
Movie #146/ New Movie #105: Death Takes a Holiday (Criterion DVD)
Friedrich March’s take on Death is alien and strange, and makes for some humor when he pretends to be a foreign prince. It hints at some big questions, but doesn’t really get to it. Perhaps it is a bit tainted by better work on the grim reaper, and a more mature understanding of the fascination with death, but I still enjoyed it.
Movie #147/ New Movie #106: Candyman (1992) (DVD)
It’s got a great hook with researchers checking out urban legends getting drawn into horror. It’s shot like a 1990s psychological thriller, which works when things go supernatural. There’s a bit of a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? sensibility at times, as it is both ahead of its time and behind ours in depictions of race. Virginia Madsen is a good horror lead, balancing the naivete of the first half prior to an effective fakeout and the intensity/ vulnerability of the second half when things go much worse. Tony Todd’s Candyman is one of the most underrated horror film monsters.
Movie #148: Darkest Hour (DVD)
This movie is certainly my jam. It’s sometimes obvious, but in a way that’s acceptable in a great film. It’s a good look at an iconic moment in England, as a flawed man who is right for the moment considers appeasement or fighting. Oldman is excellent, the epitome of the transformation of a name actor into a world-historical figure, showing Churchill at his most brilliant and aggravating at a time when his legacy was being defined.
Movie #149/ New Movie #107: Forty Guns (Criterion DVD)
It’s a decent short western on the theme of people good at handling themselves in the wild west struggling to find a place for themselves in a more civilized setting. It has a more complex take on the bad guys than usually; we can really see why Barbara Stanwyck’s character likes them despite her understanding that their time has passed.
Movie #150: Midnight in Paris (Amazon Prime)
It’s easily the best of Woody Allen’s late films, from that period when he’s famous enough to get A-list casts to play out his dramas. It’s effective at making the story of a screenwriter trying to be a novelist unpretentious, partially through the contrast of lead Owen Wilson with Martin Sheen’s pedantic professor. Marion Cotillard is adorable, and I like the twists with her character. It has a great take on nostalgia and the search for a golden age.
One thing I came to appreciate in this month of filmviewing is the effectiveness of movies as conversation-starters. The best of it here certainly qualifies. I think you could have really interesting conversations about Candyman, The Green Knight, I Tonya and a few others. It’s an interesting test for the value of a film.