This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, I’ve had a few sub-goals: five films from Arrow’s streaming service, five films nominated for Academy Awards this year (this was later changed to five winners of the Academy Award this year when I took long enough to complete this for the awards ceremony to come and go) and five films about movies.
Movie #51/ New Movie #34/ Arrow Film #1/ Film About Films #1: Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko (Arrow)
I thought this was going to be about philosophy and unanswered questions, but it’s more of a detailed behind the scenes of an ambitious directorial debut. It does seem like everyone views Donnie Darko is a perfect 10/10 film, which wasn’t quite my impression. It does do a decent job explaining the visualization of abstract concepts, although it’s mainly the story of a guy who succeeds with minor complications and absurd breaks (Katherine Ross coming out of retirement to play the psychiatrist, getting the second unit director of Close Encounters of the Third Kinds as the cinematographer) which makes it seem a bit like Bohemian Rhapsody when it comes to manufactured drama.
Movie #52/ New Movie #35/ Arrow Film #2/ Film About Films #2: They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé (Arrow)
These are generally enjoyable behind the scenes anecdotes of films that I’m not eager to see: independent regional films shot quickly and at a low budget. There are some surprising connections and excesses, especially with the accidental almost-hanging of Harold (Oddjob) Sakata, who would inexplicably work with Grefé again. The films covered are certainly not high art, but the making of it seemed to be fun.
Movie #53/ New Movie #36/ Arrow Film #3: Psychomania (Arrow)
It’s better than you would expect from a movie with a reputation for driving George Sanders to suicide. The supernatural teen bike gang story is not that bad, although it’s not that good either. The rules of the fantasy are weird, and there’s a mismatch between the mischief of the biker gang and the body count. Catchy soundtrack though, especially the folk song “Riding Free.”
Movie #54: A Few Good Men (AMC+)
The direction and score are sometimes a bit too obvious, which keeps this from being a truly great movie, but it is close, looking to serious moral questions with a decent cast and set of conflicts. Nicholson’s Jessep is fantastic, contrasting quiet control with his final outburst. There is a good sense of the preparation necessary for any legal case, and while the plot is complicated by obvious mistakes, this does make sense given how out of their league they are.
Movie #55/ New Movie #37/ Arrow Film #4: Dark August (Arrow)
It’s an oddly shot take on grief and guilt. Amateurish but there is some emotional honesty.
Academy Award Winner #1: Tenet (Arrow)
Even on a second watch, it remains a spectacularly confusing film. It starts with a vaguely defined mission with multiple forces in a shootout during a terrorist attack that is cover for something else, and gets weirder from there, when John David Washington’s unnamed protagonist joins a group so mysterious he doesn’t even know who he’s working with. There are some great concepts, the visuals keep it interesting, and the action sequences are clever, even if it remains rather confusing.
Movie #56/ New Movie #38/ Arrow Film #5: What Did You Do to Solange? (Arrow)
This giallo seems dirtier than most, The protagonist- a flawed gym teacher getting involved in a mystery that affects his student/ mistress – is effective.
Movie #57/ New Movie #39: The Dead Zone (Amazon Prime)
It’s shot in an off-kilter way which fits the character’s alienation. It’s kinda slow, although not dull. The central conflict between Walken’s psychic and Martin Sheen’s crazed politician (the exact opposite of Jed Bartlett) takes a while to get going, but is compelling when it happens.
Movie #58: Justice League- The Snyder Cut (HBO+)
This is easily Snyder’s best DC film. It has some impressive sequences, and sometimes doesn’t go in the obvious direction (IE- everyone is so traumatized about losing Superman they barely talk about it.) Even with a lame villain they get across the idea that this is too big a challenge for any sole hero. Cyborg is much improved, and I completely understand why Ray Fisher was so upset at the changes to his arc in the Joss Whedon version. The Knightmare sequence is comic bookey in the best way.
Movie #59/ New Movie #40: Godzilla VS Kong (HBO+)
This was a movie that knows what it wants to be- it’s Kong VS Godzilla, until they team up against Mechagodzilla. It isn’t much better than it needs to be, but some recurring scenes are good enough to keep it a solid B.
Movie #60: Idiocracy (DVD)
It seems to sometimes be shot in a boring way, although this works to highlight the absurdity of what’s going on, in a world run by morons.
Movie #61/ New Movie #41: Ghost of Frankenstein (DVD)
It adds a bit to the mythos with the most well-meaning Frankenstein’s monster of the Universal Horror films, though this version doesn’t make it clear why he’s one of the great film characters. There is a nice score and production design, although the affected family is bland. Mediocre follow-up to two of the best monster movies ever.
Movie #62: The Day the Earth Stood Still (DVD)
It’s a decently made Golden Age of Hollywood sci-fi film. It is about something and captures a truly alien perspective, with a unique spin on humanity’s potential for extinction.
Movie #63/ New Movie #42/ Film About Movies #3: Making the Earth Stand Still (DVD)
A well-made “Making Of” demonstrating what happened when a B-movie was made with an A-movie budget and cast. It’s a good extra for a standard DVD. It’s mostly an assortment of pleasant “Making of” stories, although it peters at the end as it suddenly shifts to collectors showing off obscure memorabilia.
Movie #64/ New Movie #43: The Swamp (HBO+)
It’s a solid documentary about underappreciated facets of Washington DC corruption which has become more relevant now that one of the subjects Matt Gaetz is under investigation for sex trafficking. He’s a prick but comes across better than usual; it’s the first time he seems to know what makes his district special.
Movie #65/ Film About Movies #4: Tropic Thunder (Blu-Ray)
It’s an excellent satire of Hollywood and war movies, elevated by Ben Stiller’s best performance, Robert Downey Jr as the ultimate insane method actor, and Tom Cruise’s transformation into monster producer Les Grossman.
Movie #66/ New Movie #44: La Llorona (Shudder)
This is a decent story about a prominent Central American family dealing with the trial of a patriarch, and realizing that it may be well-deserved, interspersed with a quiet ghost tale. This is not the poorly reviewed American film which used the same myth as a jumping off point.
Movie #67/ New Movie #45: Re-Animator (Shudder)
It’s trash, but that’s not necessarily disqualifying. The score really rips off Psycho. I do like the black humor.
Movie #68/ New Movie #46: The Woman in the Window (Netflix)
This movie is terrible in a fascinating way. It’s odd to consider how the director of Atonement and Darkest Hour made something so mediocre and derivative with such a great cast (Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh.) It’s tonally all over the map, and there are some weird misjudgments, like the final act that gets rid of some of the best performers.
Movie #69/ New Movie #47: Ghost Stories (AMC+)
It’s quite mixed. The shorter stories prevent you from getting to know the characters enough to care about what happens to them, as the lead hears about situations after the fact. The material is sometimes unsettling.
Movie #70/ New Movie #48/ Academy Award Winner #2/ Film About Movies #3: Mank (Netflix)
Making it in the style of a film about old Hollywood works really well. It has some interesting things to say about studios getting involved in politics, and what really matters, with Oldman’s Mank an interesting lead: a raconteur who is able to hide just how observant he really is, which makes his big outburst so cutting. It’s imperfect (the actress playing his wife is too young to be his contemporary, the clash with Welles about credit explicitly described as the third act twist comes out of nowhere) but it is really up my alley.
Movie #71/ New Movie #49: Mission Impossible (Paramount Plus)
The first Mission Impossible film does introduce Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as a decent action hero, with some great set pieces and clever twists, but these are good moments in a story that’s rather empty, hindered by the lack of a clear foe for much of it.
Movie #72/ New Movie #50/ Academy Award Winner #3: My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
It’s beautifully shot, and lovely enough that I can completely understand how it won Best Documentary. It really captures the unusual sense of the environment, and Craig Foster’s growing comfort in such an alien world. There’s a sense of deliberately withheld material behind the scenes (who is filming him when he’s supposed to be alone? What exactly were the crises in his life that led him to escape?) It is sometimes unbelievable but it does capture a bond between a weird guy and a very different creature.
Movie #73/ New Movie #51/ Academy Award Winner #4: The Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime)
The sound engineering is exceptional, showing the subjective experiences of Riz Ahmed’s musician. There are some clever decisions about how information is doled out, which sometimes makes it difficult to be grounded, but is often quite rewarding. It doesn’t go in the expected directions, dealing with addiction in addition to disability. There’s a good sense that this is the story of people who were hurt, before a new health crisis. When he recovers with a deaf community there is a great sense of the norms of a different culture, with its own set of rules, embodied by Paul Raci’s community director, whose clearly defined worldview leads to a complex reckoning.
Movie #74/ New Movie #52: Farewell to Manzanar (DVD)
It’s better than I expected considering it’s a relatively obscure TV movie about a family’s experiences in a Japanese-American concentration camp. It covers the conflicts within an abused community, even if there are some obvious artistic compromises, like the emphasis on many of the white people being so well-meaning.
Movie #75/ New Movie #53/ Academy Award Winner #5: The Father (Redbox)
This take on the subjective experience of an elderly man with dementia deserves all the awards it won. Anthony Hopkins excels in a tricky performance, flipping from casual cruelty to charming, while trying to hide his confusion and fear. It depicts a world that seems to be a dark horror movie for the lead, and how it all affects those around him. There are mysteries below the surface, some of which are resolved and some of which are not.