As I’ve done for the last few years, I’m keeping track of movies I’ve seen. A slight change is that I’m also trying to include some shorter films.
Movie #1/ New Movie #1: The Spiderwick Chronicles (Netflix)
It’s a family fantasy movie that does a decent job of worldbuilding, as well as capturing family dynamics, when a kid doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, in his family during a tough time (a move following a divorce) and when he realizes fairies and goblins are real, and willing to kill him for some secret knowledge.
Movie #2/ New Movie #2: Amarcord (DVD)
These vignettes in an Italian town during the fascist era capture the silliness and desires of the people who live there, balancing it with the dangers of Mussolini’s goons. The angry father has to worry about a disabled brother, and being questioned in the middle of the night for an offhand comment. The context of it may be less obvious now, given the lack of coverage of Fascist Italy in contemporary media compared to when it came out when this was much more in living memory. It is a bit weird to see Fellini in color since so many of his major works are black and white. It’s a bit like Kurosawa and Bergman in that way.
Movie #3/ New Movie #3: Howards End (Netflix)
This is the first Merchant/ Ivory film I’ve seen. It’s an odd hole in my filmwatching, although it is pretty good. It’s a story about the connections between three families elevated by an excellent cast and production values, with all sorts of character details allowing for new insights even if some turns may be a bit implausible. One thing I really appreciate is the depiction of the friendship between Emma Thompson’s Margaret Schlegel and Vanessa Redgrave’s Ruth Wilcox, both of whom have very different styles, although they can appreciate the same things. It makes it funny that Redgrave thought she was being hired to play Schlegel. It’s obviously largely about privileged people in the early 20th Century, but it acknowledges this in the way a casual comment by the rich can change a poor man’s life for the worse. It really shows how the rich people get to be flawed, but the middle class have no room for error.
Movie #4/ New Movie #4: The Matrix Resurrections (Movie Theater)
It’s a sequel that squares the circle and pulls off a few difficult tricks. It resurrects characters whose stories had ended, builds on a weak conclusion to the original trilogy , says something about reboots and modern culture, and introduces a twist that allows for the story to continue without making the original victory retroactively meaningless. It drags a bit at the end, with the bad guys not matching Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith, but it is satisfactory.
Movie #5: Godzilla
The original Godzilla is a decent film. I like the build-up to the monster, and the exploration of the moral questions in fighting it.
Movie #6/ New Movie #5: West Side Story (Movie Theater)
The one time I saw the original, I didn’t care for it all that much. Part of it is just the ridiculousness of people in a gang dancing around. It works this time to highlight their immaturity. Spielberg’s direction is incredible. There are quite a few strong performances, especially Rachel Siegler’s lead, Rita Morena’s reimagined mentor, Mike Faist’s nihilistic Riff, and Ariana Debose’s Anita who has to sell character decisions that could easily seem ridiculous if she screws up at all. I wouldn’t mind any of them getting Oscar nominations. There’s some talk about the message of the script, but it is smarter than simplistic understandings, making the case for and against reckless young love. It’s certainly worth seeing in a theater.
Movie #7/ New Movie #6: tick…tick…BOOM (Netflix)
I like Rent okay, but this is a film I’m really primed to enjoy. Two of my favorite works from the 2010s are the Social Network and Hamilton, so a Lin Manuel Miranda/ Andrew Garfield collaboration automatically piques my interest. Plus, the subject of a writer on the verge of thirty pondering his remaining time just speaks to me. It’s pretty well done, with decent songs and a narrative about making art that is a bit complicated, celebrating his ambition at a doomed project while showing hints about the work that will be his legacy.10/10
Movie #8: Charade (Criterion DVD)
A fun Hitchcock pastiche with Audrey Hepburn as a widow learning her husband’s secrets and Cary Grant as a stranger who gets involved. There are some solid twists, although it’s mainly a vehicle for two of the most charming people who have ever lived to have some fun, even if Grant is pretty obviously pushing sixty.
Movie #9: A Night to Remember (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I watched the Criterion blu-ray and it was excellent. It seems a bit too understated in the beginning, as it’s obvious that much of it is filmed on land sets that just as easily be in any hotel. But that does make for a nice contrast when everything goes to hell. Summed up my brother as part of the British mythmaking at a time when they lost India and were trying to preserve their sense of decency.
Movie #10/ New Movie #7: Beetlejuice (Blu-Ray)
It’s a bit odd that Beetlejuice is mainly a side character here, called to help one side in a comedic clash between ghosts and the new owners of their old house. The sets and make-up are great. There are some smart decisions with the family. It’s okay but it feels like its missing something.
Movie #11/ New Movie #8: Super-Size Me (Amazon Prime)
Whatever else you say about it, this is an accessible and entertaining documentary that makes its argument very well. Morgan Spurlock has a great presence, and has some fun with a catchy concept that he’s able to connect to bigger problems with American obesity.
Movie #12/ New Movie #9: Scream (2022) (Movie Theater)
As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a bad Scream movie, so the series has an outstanding batting average. The self-conscious requel seems to be a love letter to the original. I like the new leads and how the original trio get involved. There are some clever meta bits as it plays with expectations, although sometimes that can make it hard to care about the characters when a bad guy is ranting about the meta reasons for their actions.
Movie #13/ New Movie #10: The Warped Ones (Criterion DVD)
It’s similar to a few other films about young criminals, but unique for its intensity (in 75 minutes) and just how depraved this particular angry young man is. He may be one of the most self-centered characters in film. Great jazz score and energetic cinematography.
Movie #14/ New Movie #11: Belle (Movie Theater/ Subtitled)
A beautiful reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, as well as an exploration of the good and ill of social media. It takes some interesting turns, and remains visually stunning throughout.
Movie #15: The Apartment (Criterion DVD)
One of the best dramadies ever made. It’s a great take on alienation in the big city with strong performances by Lemmon, Maclaine, Macmurray and the more obscure Jack Kruschen, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination. It balances serious subject matter and humor astoundingly well with leads who are likable but not innocent.
Short Movie #1: Future Shock (Youtube)
This documentary from fifty years ago about the rapid change of technology and culture really speaks to modern problems, as we’re going through similar problems today. It’s quite ahead of its time, a film from 1972 addressing gay marriage and the implications of artificial organs. It seems a bit pessimistic as some of the stuff is obviously worthwhile, although it is also a good time capsule about the expectations at the time.
Movie #16: Through a Glass Darkly (Criterion Blu-Ray)
Ingmar Bergman at his most intense. A young woman finds out that her father expects her schizophrenia to be incurable as she also anticipates an encounter with God. Things get very messed up. It’s one of the most messed up Bergman films, which may make it one of the most messed up films ever. Obviously fascinating, and deep, but it’s quite disturbing in terms of the taboos that are shattered. The cinematography and score are excellent.
Movie #17: Blow-Up (Criterion DVD)
This is an interesting film that plays with expectations in a weird way. I saw it in college and I thought it was slow, but that’s not quite accurate. It goes into minute detail about some intense stuff. It’s exceptional in two different ways. First, it’s likely the best film exploration of the mod scene in London. Second, it takes the trappings of a thriller but shows a very different reaction for a guy who finds himself at the corners of a murder mystery.
Movie #18: In the Name of the Father (DVD)
Obviously Daniel-Day-Lewis is very good in this, depicting Gerry Conlon at different stages, from a young loser to a new prisoner to a cause célèbre. The film itself covers a lot of ground pretty well, distinguished from most prison films by a twist that allows it to really explore the father-son relationship. Even without that, it’s a solid entry to the innocent prisoner canon.
Short Movie #2: Game of Death Redux (Blu-Ray)
I got the Bruce Lee Criterion box set as a birthday gift and am quite happy with it. I don’t know if I’m ever going to watch the full Game of Death, but this is the good stuff: the parts Bruce Lee filmed before his death, which are ultimately the climax of the movie. It’s a half hour of awesome fight scenes in different styles, with a hell of an introduction to Kamal Abdul Jabbar as the intimidating final bad guy and an excellent showcase for Bruce Lee, initially cocky and overpowering, until that last fight.
Movie #19/ New Movie #12: The Music Room (Criterion DVD)
It’s a well made film about a topic that I don’t necessarily enjoy, a tragic figure who allows his life to collapse because of his pride. There are lovely details, and while the protagonist is flawed, he does have his good qualities which adds nuance to the classical tragedy. There is also a great sense of the passing of an era.
Short Movie #3: Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris (Mubi)
This is an interesting short documentary on several levels, for what Baldwin has to say, and his clash with the filmmakers who expect him to make a different movie.
Short Movie #4: Godard- Love and Poetry (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s a solid overview of Godard’s collaboration with Anna Karina, with decent commentary on the films, slightly hampered by the lack of behind the scenes material about their relationship. It’s a fine extra on the Criterion Pierrou Le Fou Blu-Ray, and provides excellent commentary on some of his films, though my favorite (Bande à part) gets short shrift.
Movie #20: Nightmare Alley: Vision in Darkness and Light (Movie Theater)
This time I watched the “Vision in Darkness and Light” black and white variant, which happened to be playing at my local theater, an odd decision since Nightmare Alley didn’t play in my local theater in December. I wouldn’t say the film is better in black and white, but it was a lovely experience. It worked rather well. One minor controversy about the film is the casting of Bradley Cooper, and whether he’s too old to play a guy who starts out as a carnie. He’s more of a contemporary of Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett, which gives some encounters a different energy. Most importantly, I don’t think a random younger actor would’ve played it better, but it sells the idea that he’s been looking for his shot for a while, and justifies his arrogance.
The film has a fantastic cast. Much of the promotion focuses on the latter half, when Cate Blanchett and higher society get involved, but it’s interesting in the first half to see the lives of the carnies. It’s not a perfect movie. The carnival scenes kept reminding me of an okay episode of the Simpsons, and some of the messages are simplistic, especially when it comes to spookshows and drinking. But it’s pretty good and builds to an excellent climax.
Short Movie #5: I am Sergei Parajanov! (Youtube)
It’s an okay primer on an eccentric and interesting filmmaker, largely in his own words, showing his other artistic pursuits (he was big on collages) and the deep injustice of his imprisonment.