This is the conclusion of a series of observations on movies I’ve seen this year. It includes my favorite movie this year, which is probably not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows that I’m a Spider-Man fan, and that No Way Home has gotten very good reviews.
Movie #176/ New Movie #127: Jeeper’s Creepers (DVD)
This horror movie might have too many high concepts. It starts okay when two siblings encounter an aggressive weirdo, and uncover something sinister, although they make some really dumb decisions in the process. The other concepts are interesting, with some weird hooks for the monster and the intervention of a psychic, but it’s just so tonally weird. The end is sudden and unsatisfying. It can fill wannabe screenwriters with the confidence they can do better.
Movie #177: The Wicker Man (DVD)
Some key character points are cut, although we do enough to follow what’s going on here. It starts with an odd mystery as a straight-laced Catholic police officer investigates the death of a child in a pagan island. It all leads to a great twist. I really appreciate the folk music, and the cockiness of Chistopher Lee’s chill lord. It’s probably the best folk horror.
Movie #178/ New Movie #128: Lake Mungo (Amazon Prime)
This ghost story imitates an indie documentary style very effectively. It’s different from typical ghost stories in that one terrible thing happens, and the ghost is the victim. But the implications are unsettling when it comes to figuring out what happened and why and how to find peace going forward. as we get to the mystery of what the victim knew.
Movie #179/ New Movie #129: But Film Is My Mistress (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s mainly a collection of behind the scenes footage from great movies. It’s no more and no less than that, and there is a lack of unity. But it is great to see Ingmar Bergman and his team discussing the nuances it takes to reach Ingmar Bergman levels of psychological depth.
Movie #180/ New Movie #130: No Time to Die (Movie Theater)
There is a major arc to Daniel Craig’s James Bond here as his trauma in previous films and a new situation undo the last film’s happy ending in a way that fits the character’s story. There are some decent set pieces, and Ana De Armas is a delight as the naive Bond girl. Rami Malek’s villain is underwritten. We don’t really get a sense of what makes his motivations different; there are hints at a higher calling but it does seem the main thing that’s special about him is that he can beat Spectre at their own game. Still it is a satisfying conclusion to the 21st Century James Bond.
Movie #181/ New Movie #131: The Many Saints of Newark (Movie Theater)
It’s a bit all over the place. It tells the complete story of a mafia figure, so it works as a self-contained film, even if it seems to often feel like a backdoor pilot (which HBO may agree with.) There’s a good sense of a dysfunctional family and the demythologizing of the mafia, showing them as the racist monsters they often were. It is kinda funny that they essentially made a decent movie out of an idea mocked years ago in Saturday Night Live (Sopranos High.)
Movie #182/ New Movie #132: The Last Duel (Movie Theater)
It’s a well-made film that may be anachronistic in some of the attitudes of the characters, but gives a sense of what it was like to live in the medieval era. I really liked it, but I can understand why it flopped. This is a film about French nobles played by Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon in which a rape is shown repeatedly. It is likely the best depiction of rape culture I’ve seen, and a good example of a situation in which any choice the characters make is ridiculously tough.
Movie #183/ New Movie #133: Don’t Torture a Ducking (Arrow Video)
It’s a Giallo that takes some turns in the narrative, jumping from the reaction to the murders of children to an investigation of an accused witch before the truth comes out. It seems to switch leads as suspects are doled out and characters shift in and out of focus. The killer makes sense, and there’s an interesting atmosphere of small-town gossip, intolerance and suspicion.
Movie #184/ New Movie #134: Dune: Part One (Movie Theater)
There’s a good sense of what a science fiction epic would be from the perspective of the Chosen One. It’s slow but deliberate. Watching it, I get an appreciation of how everything seems deliberate. It feels more like a historical drama than a sci fi film, with more emotional depth than usual. A slight issue is that Rebecca Ferguson and Timothee Chalomet do not appear to have mother/ son chemistry; it’s more like teacher/ student, or maybe stepmother/ stepson (especially in the context of the Scandinavian New Wav movies I saw in the last entry.) The effort to provide a standalone arc doesn’t quite land, as it’s clearly half a film. It is lovely in IMax.
Movie #185/ New Movie #135: Halloween Kills (Movie Theater)
Some of the shortcomings are inevitable in the middle third of a trilogy. Much happens because it has to happen. Michael Myers and Laurie can’t die. They’re not even going to have a rematch here. The big death comes because it can’t be the leads and someone else’ murder would be too depressing. There is a good sense of a town whipped into frenzy traumatized by events from 1978, and it might be satisfying to rewatch if the conclusion is as good as the first section. They do make good use of the Halloween setting, even if much of the story is ridiculous and not all that satisfying, while undercutting the message of the earlier chapters.
Movie #186: Nosferatu the Vampyre (Arrow Video)
It’s possible I’ve seen at least a version a year of the Dracula story for some time now, with this, the original Nosferatu, the Bela Lugosi Dracula, the Spanish language Dracula, and various other iterations. Herzog’s update is a great take. It sometimes drab, but this works to make the monster seem more real and allows the film to take some surreal turns. The cast (Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz) may be the best of any Dracula film.
Movie #187/ New Movie #136: Isle of the Dead (Internet Archive)
It’s a decent concept of a strange group stuck on an island due to the possibility they’re infected by the plague; this is also quite timely due to Covid. Karloff is excellent as an aristocratic Greek general. The set-up to the buried alive scene is a highlight. There are some excellent Val Lewton touches with ambiguity about what’s going on and the characters’ suspicions that they may be the real monsters. And then it takes an odd turn when a monster appears.
Movie #188: The Black Cat (Internet Archive)
The sets are excellent, and I like the chess game between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. I wasn’t entirely sure why the film was seen as having a gay subtext, until about 52 minutes in when Karloff shows up in a smoking jacket wearing eye makeup while stroking a cat and making it clear he doesn’t like women all that much. This is one of those movies that may seem to be cliched because we’ve seen all the copycats. The satanism in the last act a bit sudden. The soundtrack is decent but appears to be straight out of a silent movie, though it does make everything more intense. It does seem there is some cut footage, but it’s satisfying. I wonder who would be cast in a modern remake. Who are the current horror giants?
Movie #189/ New Movie #137: The Eternals (Movie Theater)
This has a decent visual language, even if Dune does it better. There is much to consider and they do capture the pain of immortality. Some great talents appear to be wasted, especially Angelina Jolie. It seems rather inaccessible to people who aren’t fans of sci-fi and fantasy, and able to appreciate millennia spanning epics.
Movie #190/ New Movie #138: The Closer (Netflix)
Chapelle’s special seems unfairly maligned, especially if anyone thinks it was mostly transphobic. It’s a measured response to a brand of criticism, and will probably do a better job of persuading swing voters of the humanity of trans people than any other project.
Movie #191/ New Movie #139: Last Night in Soho (Movie Theater)
It’s a ghost story that oozes cool, as a young woman appears to experience the life of a murder victim from an era she is obsessed with. It’s been done before, but I don’t know if it’s ever been better. There’s much worth analyzing and many of the concerns are addressed. It’s excellent at showing the grime underneath the surface. This works well as an ode to giallos; it’s just better than most of them.
Movie #192/ New Movie #140: Bound (Amazon Prime)
This early Wachowski effort is interesting. It shows what they were like before they went into sci-fi and action. In this case, it’s a Coen brothers-esque neonoir. The performances are decent, and the lesbian affair that it made it distinctive and controversial in the early 90s complicates the lives of characters more than anything else.
Movie #193/ New Movie #141: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Movie Theater)
Man, this was bland. It seems fatally flawed to take a comedy about middle-class ghost-hunters in New York City, and apply it to a family dramedy in the midwest. The results just aren’t fun. I might want to rewatch it just to figure out why it was so unsuccessful as a film, or perhaps why others would find resonance in it.
Movie #194/ New Movie #142: Back to School (Amazon Prime Video)
It’s an excellent vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield. College is the ultimate clash of personalities between his blue collar bravado against professorial stiffness. His interruption of a lecture on the practical applications of economics is a great scene.
Movie #195: The Producers (DVD)
This is a great concept and a terrific vehicle for Gene Wilder and Zero Moistel, taking advantage of their unique talents. “Springtime for Hitler” remains one of the best comedy set pieces ever, and I think an interesting idea to explore for any creative is a Producers challenge. Can you make something so offensive that the audience is ready to leave within five minutes, and then salvage it, the way it’s accidentally salvaged here? A slight knock against this film is that some of the stuff has been copied well in subsequent movies, as well as the musical adaptation. Though no one has been able to surpass Gene Wilder’s neuroticism.
Movie #196: Robin Hood (Disney Plus)
This was one of my favorite Disney films growing up. It is quite libertarian in the opposition to taxes and has a sense of maturity (Maid Marian wondering if Robin Hood even remembers her.) The songs and characters are decent, and I like the style. It fizzles a bit at the end with the lack of a great climax.
Movie #197: Sleeper (DVD)
It’s very slapstick, which can be surprising if you’re more familiar with post-Annie Hall Woody Allen. It’s more of a homage to classic cinema (you could see the Marx Brothers/ Charlie Chaplin influence) than a vision of the future. It’s fun, even if it’s mainly a reminder that Woody Allen is a classic film buff.
Movie #198/ New Movie #143: The French Dispatch (Movie Theater)
The most Wes Anderson-iest film ever made. It’s quite stylized but has a mix of whimsy and darkness, along with some excellent performances. It is a major statement on art in general, which provides depth to the silliness.
Movie #199: Tron (Disney Plus)
The once-innovative tech used to make the film may be primitive, but the visual scheme holds up. The moment an accounting software realized he was being forced to fight to the death, I was sold on the film. There is a silent movie aesthetic, as the futurism seems almost classical. This is still a decent adventure movie, subtly different from the norm, and with some good high concepts in the programs’ almost religious worship of the users.
Movie #200/ New Movie #144: Spider-Man No Way Home (Movie Theater)
It’s my favorite movie in years, and my favorite superhero movie ever, which makes it my favorite MCU and Spider-Man movie by default. I’ll go into more detail about why I loved it later, but it is the definitive statement on Peter Parker.
Movie #201/ New Movie #145: Licorice Pizza (Movie Theater)
It’s an excellent coming of age story balancing Hoffman’s ambitious wheeler-dealer high school kid with Haim’s aimless young woman. Anderson makes great and specific use of the 1970s California setting, and includes some hilarious stand-ins for famous celebrities of the era. Beautifully shot.
Movie #202/ New Movie #145: Fist of Fury (Criterion Blu-Ray)
Quentin Tarantino is obviously a big fan of this movie. No surprise that it has some great action sequences with Bruce Lee kicking all sorts of ass. It is a bit jingoistic, although that is understandable in the context of China’s relationship with Japan in the early 20th Century. This movie is also about something, as the lead’s fighting prowess comes at a price: excessive rage which hurts those around him.
Movie #203/ New Movie #145: The Tragedy of Macbeth (Movie Theater)
A stark but beautiful take on Shakespeare, as Denzel Washington conveys his initial hesitance and subsequent guilt and madness. In some cases, the dialogue seems unnatural. At other times it comes through. Kathryn Hunter is especially impressive as the three witches. The final act shows appropriate responses to Macbeth’s paranoia, as well as his power. We can see how he became a major war hero before the final showdown with Macduff, earned more here than in any depiction I’ve seen. A nice touch is the hints of other machinations.
Movie #204/ New Movie #144: Nightmare Alley (Movie Theater)
I went into cold which was quite satisfying, as I wasn’t sure where the story would go or even which celebrities would play which role. It’s a beautifully shot noir, that feels to replicate its era but with a modern understanding of filmmaking and psychology. I’m a sucker for movies about con men, and this is a good one, showing some clever tricks and the ways it can fall apart.