Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in October.
- Movies watched – 35
- Movies that were new to me – 24
- New record for 80s movies watched – 10
- Monthly Masterpieces – Black Narcissus, Love Me Tonight, Raging Bull
- How to be a Serial Killer (2008) – Played like a shittier version of American Psycho, and I already had my issues with American Psycho stretching a thin premise into a feature length film. The performances were alright, but otherwise there wasn’t much in this low budget film that impressed me.
- Rocky Balboa (2008) – Even though the plot kind of meandered around random scenes of Rocky feeling down with too many dramatic speeches sprinkled in before the big fight at the end, this was still the best Rocky movie since Rocky III. This did at least offer the most realistic boxing of the franchise (which isn’t saying much), and as a character it is pretty easy to find your self rooting for Rocky despite your best efforts.
- Raging Bull (1980) – Fully deserving of its “all time best reputation”, Raging Bull is one of the few biopics I truly enjoy. However, it is no more the story of Jake LaMotta’s life than it is a boxing movie–instead the dark depths of the male psyche are plumbed deeper than ever before as De Niro gives one of the “all time best” performances of a man who is slowly destroying himself with machismo.
- The Sacrifice (1986) – While I’ve never seen more technically impressive long shots (though, Nkvist filming Faro is bound to be amazing), the long scenes of interminable dialog surrounding a preposterous example of Tarkovsky’s idea of the power of symbolic gestures make this a tough film to get through. Still, this works much better than his previous Nostalgia, and by the time the final shot has ended it is clear the film is operating upon that level of dreamlike brilliance that only Tarkovsky is able to inhabit.
- Amadeus (1984) – Utterly engrossing, it never made its three hours felt and was masterfully directed. I still had my nitpicky issues (the analysis of the music was overly expository, and the overall theme of “not having the talent you wish you had” was a bit slight as an idea) but overall it was hard to say it did not deserve its considerable reputation.
- Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) – Though set in occupied France and dealing with the holocaust, thankfully (films about such horrors are never much fun to watch for me) the interaction of teenage boys forms most the backbone of the narrative. The characters are completely believable, and this is one of those films offering more insight than is immediately apparent.
- The Vanishing (1988) – Genuinely creepy film that derives much of its unease from how utterly sane the villain seems–so much so that the possible horror of what his act could have been is nearly forgotten at parts. You will stay riveted as the mystery unravels, and you will stay sickened long after the film is over.
- The Elephant Man (1980) – Lynch plays it straight, but the absurd spectacle of the Elephant Man (dominating every frame he inhabits) ensures that this film is just as surreal as the rest of Lynch’s oeuvre. Basically the same story as Herzog’s Kasper Hauser, this was a masterful depiction of a sensitive soul doomed to exploitation and frustrated longings by a world he has no place in.
- Blackmail (1929) – Hitchcock’s first sound film but it sure didn’t show as he adopted the new medium with his usual unbridled creativity instead of just tacking it on to a film that was originally shot as a silent. I’m not sure what was up with the initial silent sequence that (while quite good) didn’t have anything to do with the movie, but after that it’s all your favorite Hitchcock tropes–and if it wasn’t a masterpiece like The 39 Steps, it was still pretty great.
- The Bandwagon (1953) – It’s the usual “let’s put on a show story”, but with expert direction from Minelli and tons of great song and dance numbers. I have no idea how the song and dance numbers fit together for the show they were putting on, but that hardly mattered while I was watching them.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – Snow White and the prince were fairly bland, but the evil queen and the dwarfs at least provided some life to their characterizations in this, this first of the Disney full length animated films. A worthy seed for the Disney legacy if you don’t mind sitting through the Snow White and the cute forest animals for the dwarfs and the scary parts.
- Man of the West (1958) – Cooper was looking pretty hoary, but he did a good job portraying a reformed bad man who is helplessly forced back to his old ways. I’d call this one of the better Anthony Mann Westerns, but the plot was so bleak and hopeless that the movie really kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
- Love Me Tonight (1932) – One of the great musicals, this movie has enough invention and creativity for ten movies. The songs will stick with you long after it’s over, the cast is uniformly great and Chevalier is more adorable than he had any right to be.
- Porky’s (1982) – It’s a good thing I hadn’t seen this before now or I never would have written Jock Blog for fear of plagiarism. I actually thought it was fairly well done for what it was, but the relentless focus on sex obsession made it seem like more than just “a movie about horny teenage boys” and instead something that at the end of the day was (unintentionally on the director’s part) rather disturbing.
- Angel and the Badman (1947) – A strange Western where Wayne tries to turn pacifist for his Quaker girlfriend. It watches like an A list production of one of Wayne’s earlier B list movies from the 30’s which is to say it nothing super special but still great fun (and the girl was super hot).
- Duel in the Sun (1946)– Totally overblown and overdramatic, I nonetheless (or perhaps, because of those qualities) pretty much completely enjoyed it. Though her acting was suspect that girl sure was hot, the all star cast was great (I’ve never seen Peck play someone that nasty before) and the torrid melodrama that infused every scene was really pure entertainment.
- Black Narcissus (1947) – Definitely the best movie about nuns that I’ve ever seen–though it helps that these nuns happened to be hot and full of repressed sexual desires. This film is also proof that filming on a set can be even more visually astounding than location footage as the visuals and colors were quite literally breathtaking.
- The ‘burbs (1989) – One of those movies that is just a lot of fun–like the neighbor kid Cory Feldman, who doesn’t love watching normal people lose their thin veneer of humanity as they descend into tribal anarchy? Strong performances and a clever script more than make up for the lulls and sillier bits.
- Miss Congeniality (2000) – It was the standard “fish out of water” story, but it was competently done and owed no small part of its success to Bullock’s usual strong screen presence. I didn’t catch myself laughing all that much, but I was consistently entertained.
- Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous (2005) – Moving the formula into “buddy cop” territory, this film was let down by a weak performance from the “buddy cop” and a rambling script. Bullock still keept you interested, but just barely.
- Asphalt (1929) – Pretty awesome late period silent film full of expressionist shadows and a great Louis Brooks wannabe. The simple story of a straight dude getting mixed up with (or in this case, raped by) a bad girl was well done and stayed interesting throughout.
- Stella Dallas (1937) – This highly regarded story of a working class mother who marries above her was really just not my thing to start with, though maybe my real complaint was the remarkable job they did of making Stanwyck look like a late period Shelly Winters (which was unforgivable). Admittedly, I could be selling Vidor short as to the subversivenes of his message (ie, are we really supposed to like the “respected” family?), so it could be a much deeper movie than I initially thought despite my urge to roll my eyes through a lot of it.
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) – It’s the same old noir story, but with enough twists and turns after it gets where you know it is going to make the whole thing actually quite fresh. Definitely in the top tier of film noir, though a sympathetic character might be a bit hard to find.
- Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) – Like much of Hugh Grant’s best romantic comedy work, this felt a bit manufactured/”too slick”. But that would ignore how clever, funny and polished the script and performances were–honestly, it was quite good for a modern romantic comedy.
- Die Another Day (2002) – Sure it was yet another diamond studded space laser story, and sure I loathe Brosnan as Bond, but this actually started out well enough. But by the time they got to the ice base (and Bond kite surfing away from the space laser) I began to suspect this was the silliest Bond movie yet (and that is saying a lot when you think about the Roger Moore years).
- The Hunt for Gollum (2009) – It really did look pretty good, but the script was a pretty pathetic mess that seemed designed to throw a bunch of scenes together with little regard to the overall narrative. Also, while the actors were fine in this fan version, the seriousness with which they delivered their lines was pretty laughable (and made me appreciate the Lord of the Rings movies more since I seem to remember them making the dialog actually work when spoken out loud).
- Peeping Tom (1960) – A seedy unsettling movie that gets the viewer a little too close to a very “not well” dude. It really was quite unique (both for its place in film history and Michael Powell’s career) and powerfully constructed, but I don’t know that I’d be super excited about watching it again.
- The Informant (2009)– Pretty solid but I was somewhat underwhelmed (probably in part to the truth usually not actually being stranger than fiction despite the claims to the contrary). The portrayal of the main character seemed a bit uneven as he bounced between moronicly imbecilic and fairly competent more than Michael Scott in the Office.
- Three Kings (1999) – I have to say, this really deserved all the massive praise that has been heaped upon it. An action packed, wildly entertaining, darkly funny war/heist movie with something to say about the Gulf War that somehow managed to avoid coming off as preachy–it will reaffirm your faith in Hollywood movies.
- Destry Rides Again (1939) – Not just a cute movie, but one of the great Westerns that is a perfect example of the rule that “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to”. The film is perfectly pitched between action and comedy, and really barrels along all the way to the fiery (though a bit overdone) ending.
- Things to Come (1936) – A real triumph of set design and special effects, this also has the distinction of being the first ever post-apocalyptic sci fi movie a half decade before Mad Max (not to mention first ever zombie movie as well). The dialog is overly expository, but otherwise the silliness mostly manages to be equaled by the sheer spectacle of the whole thing.
- Beat the Devil (1953) – Maybe I got my hopes up too much after seeing the talent involved, but I felt like this movie was a let down. The plotting was kind of a mess and I really just never found myself sucked into the story.
- Star Wars (1977) – While the humor is a bit broader than I prefer, the effects a bit rusty and the dialogue rather cheesy, there is still no denying the sheer entertainment value of the whole thing. There is a real thrill to watching this first ever (as far as I know) combination of fantasy, western and science fiction–it’s easy to see how this single-handedly created a new film genre overnight.
- The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Compared to episode IV, the effects are much better, the story much tighter, and all in all this really is the series high point everyone says it is. Lots of great stuff, and the fact that they make a muppet one of the main characters and actually pull it off is really pretty impressive.
- The Return of the Jedi (1983) – Howard Hawks once said a great movie is three good scenes and no bad ones–unfortunately, this installment has three good scenes (rescue of Hans from Jabba, the assault on the empire shield generator, and Luke’s confrontation with Vader) and no other ones (and it still somehow manages to feel disjointed). Still great fun, just a bit overlong for what it is.