92 thoughts on “movies mmxx

  1. Not really my review, but something I wrote about Just Mercy for a thing at work.

    Just Mercy (2019)
    Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

    Destin Daniel Cretton directed Just Mercy and he’s from Maui, so I’d encourage you to see it just to support local-grown Japanese American film-directing talent even if the film weren’t loaded with killer acting. But it is, so go see it for that.

    Michael B. Jordan plays a young Harvard Law grad working with death row inmates, assisted by Brie Larson and pretty much nobody else. Jamie Foxx is an inmate whose conviction appears questionable, and while it seems to the lawyer that a retrial is called for, other forces disagree.

    As in most courtroom dramas, some characters say and do things you’re not sure they could, but while the script is difficult to believe in a couple of big places, the film makes up for it with excellent acting and a story worth telling.

    Jordan, Foxx, Larson, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (baby Ice Cube!) are all outstanding. Foxx was nominated for a SAG award and will likely be nominated for several others, yet the real knockout performance is Tim Blake Nelson’s, which honestly left me amazed. I’ve seen him in twelve movies (and you probably have too), and while he always turns side characters into interesting people, I couldn’t have guessed he had this in him. He’ll break your heart.

    So will this movie, which reminds us that we are deeply, terribly flawed—collectively and personally—while reminding us there is hope for redemption.

    84/100

  2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
    Dir. Stanley Kramer
    58/100

    This was a blockbuster adventure comedy, with a star-studded ensemble cast, including Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Jonathan Winters, Ethel Merman, among others.

    The opening scene instantly drew me into this: A man driving erratically on a cliff-side road, passes three cars and then flies over the cliff. Three men from the three cars stop and run down the cliff and find a bloodied man, who tells him of a millions of dollars buried in a park. Thus begins a race between the three to get the treasure.

    While the plot and pacing of the film was solid, unfortunately, much of the comedy fell flat for me. At some point, I kept thinking about how this had potential for a modern update, and the casting of a director and modifying of the film preoccupied much of my viewing. Steven Spielberg was one filmmaker that came to mind, and I thought that the film would be more of an adventure, with some comedy on the side, versus the other way around–sort of like the tone of Midnight Run, perhaps. The thing is, it would be a really expensive film, and a big gamble, but blockbusters are the main type of film Hollywood seems interested in.

    1. My sister and I loved this film when we were growing up, even though we didn’t know enough to recognize the cameos. I’d say there were two modern updates: both of the Cannonball Run films.

    2. When I say updates, I mean something closer to a remake. For example, the idea of three or more groups finding about a treasure and then racing and/or double-crossing the other to get to the treasure first. Actually, I would be open to removing the treasure and replacing it with something else–e.g., assassinating someone or bringing in a fugitive, although the latter would basically be Midnight Run, I guess.

      Actually the idea probably isn’t that great, although the action set pieces could be fun with a great action director like Spielberg or James Cameron. Another idea: make it with little or no dialogue. Maybe it could be set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has to wear gas masks all the time. (Now it’s sounding too much like Road Warrior.

  3. Under the Silver Lake (2019)
    Dir. Davie Robert Mitchell
    Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, etc.
    77/100

    I think this is something Mitchell and Penny would find interesting, and I would recommend seeing it without knowing much about it. I don’t watch a lot of movies these days, so take this with a grain of salt, but this movie stayed with me–so much so that I watched it a second time.

    **
    The basic story of the film involves a 30 year old guy who meets a beautiful girl in his apartment complex. The next day she’s gone, including all her stuff from her apartment. The guy spends the rest of the film looking for her.

    ***
    If this were made 20-30 years ago, it would feel like a post-modern Gen-X movie, and on some level it kinda feels like a retro movie. Maybe one could think of it as an updated Gen-X movie. While watching the movie, I felt like it was tapping into the current zeitgeist, taking humorous (whether acerbic or good-natured may depend on the viewer) shots at twenty or thirty-somethings in the process. Interestingly, I think the barbs directed at the twenty and thirty-somethings in this film could probably apply to the same group in the past thirty years. So one could say the film wants skewer or tease everyone–or at least Gen-Xers and the generations following them.

  4. Mitchell,

    Did you say you saw First Reformed? I recall you expressed ambivalence about the third act. Or am I mixing you up with someone else?

    1. Spoilers

      I’m guessing where the film took a bad turn for you was the same for me. It started with the priest becoming sympathetic with the environmental movement. I believe a political awakening over the environment can have a spiritual connection, but with this character the link didn’t seem strong, clear, and convincing for me.

      The film went even more astray, for me, basically losing me emotionally, when he contemplated wearing the suicide vest during the 250 church anniversary.

      Finally, I felt the ending, which seemed symbolic, especially with the barbed wire and then the embrace with the widow, felt a little hollow or left me dissatisfied. That was my first reaction, anyway. Maybe if I think about the film more, I feel differently, Off the top of my head, the widow feels like a representation of…God’s spirit, a renewing, life-giving spirit. The romantic and/or sexual elements may function more in a figurative rather than a literal way. Having said that, it didn’t really work for me, not totally, not initially. Again, I’ll have to think about this more.

      1. (spoilers for First Reformed)

        The suicide vest thing made sense to me — I didn’t like it, but it didn’t turn me off. It was the flying through the air sequence that turned it for me.

    2. I can see why the sequence turned you off. Right before that scene, I was worried the film would follow a cliched route of the relationship between a priest and beautiful woman taking a sexual/romantic turn. A part of me may have been relieved or more satisfied with a more mystical slant.

      But in either case, I didn’t feel emotionally attached to the priest, and I think this is because I didn’t find Hawke’s performance, especially the religious and spiritual aspects, convincing.

  5. 92 in the Shade (1975)
    Dir. Thomas McGuane
    Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton, Burgess Meredith, etc.
    61/100

    I don’t know if “Florida crazy” is a real term, but based on comments and anecdotes of I’ve heard, it a phrase that has formed in my mind. This is a movie that has a whole lot of Florida crazy–at least in the characters. A young man, Tom, wants to be a fishing guide–a person who takes people to good fishing spots in little skiffs. There’s a long time guide, Nichol Dance (Oates), who, while seemingly friendly to the young man, threatens to kill him if he becomes a guide. The plot is secondary. This is more a film about the characters. Actually, this is film more about the dialogue. McGuane is a novelist and screenwriter, not a filmmaker, and not only does the film seem bland cinematically, but the characters aren’t well-drawn or well-acted. The dialogue is the best part of the movie in my opinion, and I can see why good actors would be drawn to this film.

  6. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
    Dir. L.Q. Jones
    Starring: Don Johnson, etc.
    54/100

    Based on a Harlan Ellison novella, this is a post-apocalyptic film about a horny young man and his dog. What makes this story interesting is the telepathic link between the boy and the dog. The dog not only can speak and understand English, he’s a lot smarter than the young man. Really their relationship and the dog, brought to life by the voice of Tim McIntire, was the best part of the movie. Everything else was cheap and trashy–the type of movie you’d see in USA late night. (I suspect others will recognize McIntire’s voice. I believe he’s done a lot of voiceovers, as a narrator for 70’s documentaries? or commercials.)

  7. Bleach (2018)
    Dir. Shinsuke Sato
    68/100

    Apparently based on a manga, this is a live action Japanese film about a high school student who accidentally becomes a “soul-reaper.” Some people when they die become discontented spirts monsters that consume the souls of others. Soul repears “kill” these monsters and send them to the “other side.” OK, that may not be totally correct, but that’s the general idea.

    While I didn’t think this was a really good film, I was surprised that it kept my attention and entertained me as much as it did. One reason was the female actor who plays a soul reaper who serves as guide and trainer. I thought she was well-cast, and liked her character. Ultimately, this is one of those movies that was entertaining, and at third act, you know how good the movie will be will depend on the ending. Unfortunately for me, the ending was a let down.

  8. The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)
    Dir. Josh Moshe
    Starring: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Jim Caviezel, etc.
    70/100

    The sidekick is a familiar archetype of Westerns. I suspect the best are mostly harmless, but they are likable, with loyalty being one of their best traits. Suppose a Western centered around a sidekick? I can’t think of many Westerns that have done this, but this is one that does this. Perhaps, that may not sound interesting, but Bill Pullman, in the sidekick role, starts off the film on a promising note–specifically Pullman’s depiction of Brown. At the same time, this also contributed to some disappointment in the film. (More later.)

    The story is about the long-time sidekick wanting to do one last service for his partner.

    ***
    In a way, Pullman and the movie depict the titular character as inept, maybe a little slow, and there is one or two scenes where I wondered if he was cowardly. In the third act, these qualities seem to vanish, and the film moved into a more conventional Hollywood Western. That disappointed me, although maybe the film wasn’t to blame for my initial expectations–that is, maybe I was projecting.

    I also didn’t care for the casting of the Tom and Wild Bill characters, especially for the former. Better casting for parts could have elevated the film quite a bit for me.

  9. Mitchell,

    Are you still subscribing to the criterion channel? I’m considering using their 14-day free trial, and I’m wondering if they have their entire catalogue available. When I went to the site to browse the films, it didn’t seem like they have everything that’s available on BR/DVD. (I know they have some films that are not on BR/DVD, yet, but I would have assumed they’d have everything that’s on BR/DVD.)

    1. No, they rotate things in and out. But you’ll almost surely find 14 days’ worth of stuff to keep yourself amused.

  10. Southern Comfort (1981)
    Dir. Walter Hill
    Starring: David Carradine, Fred Ward, Powers Boothe, Peter Coyote, etc.
    28/100

    Before I saw this film, I was aware of it for two reasons: 1) when having to pick a video to watch with friends, I recall seeing this frequently, but always giving it a pass; 2) Many years later I put it on my list because a) I saw this listed in a book about underrated films, and b) I became more interested in Walter Hill movies. Even with this interest, I was never in the mood, and maybe I was bit skeptical, even though I enjoyed several other films by Hill. Unfortunately, the film justified my skepticism, at least for my own personal enjoyment.

    You know how some protagonists made such stupid decisions that you soon start rooting for them to die? That’s what happened here–but to a degree that I can’t remember experiencing. To wit: I almost quit on this film several times, even after I got to little more than the half way point. At the same time, this film was on my list for a while and a part of me wanted me to see this through. What pushed me over the hump was the notion that I could get some satisfaction out of seeing them die for their stupidity. This kind of rationale almost never works, but it was enough for me.

    How stupid are we talking about? (If you want to see the film don’t read much more of this.) First, the premise: a bunch of Louisiana national guardsmen have a weekend exercise in the bayou. A small group go out to find a meeting point, but the flooding makes them get lost. Soon they encounter some local cajuns and get into a fight to the death.

    OK, now back to the stupidity. Really stupid act #1: Because of the flooding they decide to use some boats they find, leaving a not behind, instead of walking back. (They have a radio which they decide not to use.) About a 100 yards from shore they see some men where they left. It seems like they’re the owners of the boat. The guardsmen try to tell them they left a note, but the men don’t seem to understand. Maybe the only speak French. Here’s the the dumb act: One of the guardsmen shoots a M-60 at the men. They bullets are blanks, but the men on the shore don’t know that. So they fire back and kill the captain. Some of the guardsmen don’t seem to understand that they’re more to blame than the men on the shore.

    Stupid act #2 and #3: The guardsmen find a cabin and see a man who looks like one of the people who shot at them. One guardsmen suggests they talk to him, but the leader decides to ambush him and then talk. They idea is to arrest the guy and take them with them. In this process, one of the guardsmen unnecessarily in the mouth with the butt of his rifle. Then inexplicably another guardsmen goes into the cabin, rips his shirt open, paints a red cross on it, and then proceeds to light the cabin on fire. He doesn’t realize the cabin has dynamite and kabloo-ey!

    It was here that I stopped the film, and just about thrown in the towel. I explained how I got back into the film, and needless to say, the ending didn’t really help. (Note: I fast-forwarded about 3-4 minutes near the end, during a moment that might have been important.)

  11. After re-watching The Battered Bastards of Baseball (which was the third viewing), I had the feeling that this was one of the best sports movies I’ve ever seen. I love this movie, and I was surprised to enjoy it as much on the second and third viewings. The overall story is terrific, but there are other elements of this that are wonderful (I’m being intentionally vague). This is a movie that any true baseball fan would love.

  12. Milius (2017)
    Dir. Zac Knutson and Joey Figueroa
    68/100

    This is a documentary about John Milius, the Hollywood screenwriter and director. I was familiar with the name, but I never knew he had the stature he did, especially with big name filmmakers like Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese, Mann, Lucas, et al. When I saw some of the films he directed (e.g., Conan the Barbarian and the original Red Dawn), I remembered the reason why–namely, I never thought highly of those films. I don’t think my opinion has changed, but what I didn’t realize Milius’s hand in iconic and great moments of dialogue. For example, Spielberg asked him to help with the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech in Jaws (which Robert Shaw edited down). I believe he wrote some iconic Dirty Harry lines–e.g., “Do you feel lucky, punk?” and “Make my day.” He also co-wrote Apocalypse Now. What he did was impressive. Still, I’d be surprised if I would change my mind on Conan and Red Dawn.

  13. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
    Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini
    62/100

    I felt like I was watching a low-budget movie; and if it were one made by a first time director, the film would seem more impressive to me. Besides the location (which, if it were shot in Italy might not be such a big expense), the film seemed to like it could be shot by a film student. The costumes seemed simple as did the shots. Many of the actors looked like non-professionals–from the working class or country-side– and the film didn’t require much from them. I think the film uses music from other sources (including African-American spirituals), and reuses them through the film.

    Unless some other films about Jesus, like many of the actual Gospels, this film is episodic and not using narrative where each scene smoothly connects to the other. (This also lends to the low-budget feel of the film. Also, there are a lot of close-ups in the movie, which I state more as a matter of fact.)

    There is a gritty, earthy, and simple quality of the film that is attractive, but if this were not a low-budget film made by a first time director, than that diminishes the film a bit for me.


  14. The Lighthouse (2019)
    Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson. Written by Robert Eggers and Max Eggers. Directed by Robert Eggers.

    For a psychological horror film, The Lighthouse is quite watchable if you (like I) shy away from such pictures. It’s unlikely to give you nightmares or to gross you out, so it’s worth a shot, because this is one compelling and gorgeous movie.

    Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow, lighthouse attendants on a remote island in the north Atlantic. Wake is the barnacled veteran with a pirate’s aaaaarrrrgot, a grouchy taskmaster to first-timer Winslow. Their relationship begins tenuously and continues contentiously, the men’s interactions swinging from testy to amiable depending on how much alcohol has been consumed.

    Wake and Winslow are stationed for four weeks, but a vicious storm extends their stay. The men’s quarters are cramped, and they spend just about every minute together. This reality is heightened for the viewer by the film’s 1.19 to 1 aspect ratio, a frame that’s practically square, much narrower than a high-def television screen, even narrower than pre-HDTV television screens.

    The acting is fabulous, but excellent performances by the principal actors highlight one of The Lighthouse’s major obstacles. When great actors overact in service to the movie, we have to work out a certain tension. When skilled writing goes over the top, we have to decide whether or not to accept it. At the height of one conflict, one character accuses the other of being a parody, so Pattinson, Dafoe, and director Robert Eggers are clearly aware of these issues.

    Eggers’s commentary track reveals meticulous research and thoughtful filmmaking, so I’m inclined to accept the film on its terms. Accepting the acting and writing makes it easier to accept the other strange sights and developments; my advice is to appreciate everyone’s considerable chops. There’s almost no way the film satisfies if you can’t.

    The Lighthouse is compelling and gorgeous. Block off two evenings because it rewards a second viewing.

    7/10
    73/100

    1. Visually that movie looks good, but the horror designation is a bit of a turnoff. My tolerance for horror has shrunk to almost zero.

      On a side note, Robert Pattinson has been getting involved in what seems like interesting movies, kinda reminded me of Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, an actor I like. (Whatever happened to him?) I can’t remember any film I’ve seen Pattinson in, so I really don’t know how good he is.

      1. I’ve only seen him (I think) in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and in Twilight. I mean before this. I looked through reviews of his other movies and the critics seem to really like him. Might investigate.

        Oh wait, I saw him in Water for Elephants, but I remember almost nothing about that movie. And didn’t you see The Lost City of Z?

  15. Midnight Special (2017)
    Dir. Jeff Nichols
    Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dundst, Adam Driver, etc.

    Here’s what I knew going in: A boy has some sort of super power, and he’s on the run (not sure who’s chasing him) with his father. And that’s actually a fair description of the story, and all you really need to know.

    On a side note, does anyone know the meaning of “midnight special?” I know it’s a name or a line from a song, but I don’t know the lyrics. That’s the only reference I know. In any event, I ask this because I think it could shed light on the overall meaning of the film.

    ***
    This is one of those films that feels like the meaning or “meat” of the film lies below the surface, because as a straightforward action, thriller, drama, there doesn’t seem to be much there. The ending also creates the same impression. This also applies to one of Nichols’s previous films, Take Shelter, which also is thematically similar. Both of them have a end times, apocalyptical vibe (although it’s not Christian–or at least I don’t think it is). And yet the end times story feels more like a structure for other themes. In this film, we have three key groups–an apocalyptical cult, who views the boy as a kind of savior (wrongly), the biological family of the boy, and an alien race, which exists in an invisible world built “on top” of the world we live in. We learn that the aliens have been watching humanity for a long time. The boy belongs to this alien race, but we never learn his purpose for being in the world. (Maybe it was an accident?)

    Possible interpretation: The film might about parenting–specifically, the way parents have to fight and sacrifice for their children and then eventually let them go. If this is an accurate reading, I would be a bit disappointed in the film.

  16. The Big Sick (2017)
    Dir. Michael Showalter
    Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, etc.
    77/100

    I’d recommend this to Don. Mitchell would probably like this as well. Larrilynn liked this.

    **
    This rom-com is based on a true story–specifically the way stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his wife, Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). I’m not into rom-coms these days, but I enjoyed this–especilaly Nanjiani and Kazan, although Ray Romano is also funny in this as well, and Hunter is solid as always. Nanjiani has a really good deadpan delivery and he’s just funny overall. I’d be interested in seeing him in more films. Kazan has been appealing to me in every film I’ve seen her in. The story is quite compelling and engaging, especially since the main parts are true. One small quibble: I wish Nanjiani and Kazan had more screen time.

    1. Your response made me think a little more about what makes it good. The two things that come to mind:

      1. The story–or more specifically, the situation–is really compelling, weighted with drama and intense emotion. I heard Nanjiani and Gordon say that the latter’s mom was skeptical about this movie and puzzled, maybe a little appalled, that they would make a comedy about this incident. I totally get that. In a way, that this succeeds as a comedy is a fairly noteworthy accomplishment;

      2. The casting. I heard one filmmaker say that the casting is about 70% of the movie (and it might have been higher). I tend to agree with this, especially Hollywood films. And they basically got all the key parts down.

      By the way, I mentioned situation above, which makes me think of a sit-com. This is like a great episode of a sit-com made into a movie.

    2. He’s going to be Kingo Sunen in The Eternals next year, so you’ll get your wish. Also, although I think you’d find it annoying, Silicon Valley is one of my favorite comedy series in recent years, probably my second favorite after The Good Place, and he’s one of the main characters in that for six seasons.

      Casting is certainly a reason, but something about the sincerity and intelligence of both main characters is what does it for me. You can see how two people with such disparate backgrounds really click when they converse with one another. They’re both clever and sweet, and they make each other laugh. It feels real to me.

    3. He’s going to be Kingo Sunen in The Eternals next year, so you’ll get your wish.

      Oh man, I wish it were another film–if we’re talking about the Marvel film. I really don’t like the number of god-like characters in the Marvel universe. Galactus, the Watcher, maybe one or two more, but that should be it.

      Casting is certainly a reason, but something about the sincerity and intelligence of both main characters is what does it for me.

      But how do you separate the sincerity and intelligence from the casting?

  17. Borg vs McEnroe (2017)
    Shia LaBeouf, Svirrir Gudnason, Stellen Skarsgård. Written by Ronnie Sandahl. Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen.

    In July 1980, the world’s second-ranked men’s tennis player John McEnroe faced the world’s best, Björn Borg, in the finals at Wimbledon, in what many have called the greatest tennis match ever. I hadn’t yet gotten into tennis, but I had discovered CNN Sports Tonight, a nightly half-hour television program featuring highlights and commentary like nothing I’d seen before. Until then, my sports highlights existed only in the final five minutes of the local news, or during Howard Cosell’s “Halftime Highlights” on Monday Night Football.

    This is when my interest in tennis was born: with CNN’s regular coverage of McEnroe’s serve and volley on the court, and his tantrums on the sideline. He was the kind of athlete I always favored as a boy. Muhammad Ali, Ken Stabler, Reggie Jackson, John McEnroe. Don’t tell any of those guys what to do, because they’ll just do the opposite, and then beat you while you whine.

    I say all this to explain how I was once an avid pro tennis fan, John McEnroe was my gateway drug, there was an era when the characters in tennis were as fascinating as its competitions, and Borg vs McEnroe is a great trip back to a much funner time. You don’t have to be a tennis fan to appreciate the film; in fact, it might be better for your enjoyment if you’re not. Still, if you are a fan, you’ll appreciate the memories of the stoic Borg, who had won Wimbledon four straight years before 1980, and tempestuous McEnroe, gunning for the world’s top ranking.

    Believe it or not, Shia Labeouf is excellent as McEnroe. I suspect Labeouf identifies with McEnroe in important ways. You never really think you’re looking at McEnroe’s body or face, but you do get a sense you’re seeing the person. Svirrir Gudnason looks exactly like my memory of Borg.

    The film sets us up for this Wimbledon final with flashes back to each man’s past, framing the confrontation at Centre Court as a meeting of surprisingly similar characters, each with sympathy for the other. It’s a compelling story, drawn so that rather than foils, the athletes are parallels. If you’re hoping to get a deep psychological exploration of what made these seemingly different men so great at hitting a yellow ball, you’ll think this movie is a tease. If you’re looking for a little bit of character analysis to go with your service aces, you’ll be pleased.

    Viewers are unlikely to agree with my one major gripe unless they enjoy watching tennis on television or in person. The action on the court is edited in such a way that you don’t see very much tennis. This is utterly maddening. You see and hear the racquets making contact; you see the expressions, the blurs of power and speed. You sometimes see the ball hitting the court. You almost never see a rally from serve to point, and you see very little of the action from the usual angle, behind the receiver and over his shoulder. With the exception of one series of very cool overhead shots, none of this is an improvement in any way.

    You could make the argument that it makes for better cinema and better storytelling, and I might understand. After all, in Searching for Bobby Fisher, a movie I love, I never complained that chess games (or whatever they’re called) aren’t shown in real time with realistic flow, because who wants to watch that except maybe chess spectators? However, this is tennis, not chess!

    Thank goodness for the film’s ending, which heals some of my wounds. Where the tennis action fails, the closing scene succeeds, showing us the action and giving us a resolution the competition denies us. Very, very well done. Stick around for the closing credits too, which treat us to actual photos of Borg and McEnroe. They made me a little teary.

    As a film lover, I think it’s excellent. As a sports film lover, I think it’s pretty good. As a sports lover, I think it’s agonizing. For this, I have to penalize the film one point for unsportsmanlike behavior.

    79/100
    7/10

  18. This reminds me of one of the funniest sports quotes I’ve ever heard, which I may have shared before. In Borg vs McEnroe, we see a few other tennis players McEnroe is friendly with, including Peter Fleming (whom I do not remember) and Vitus Gerulaitus (whom I do).

    When Gerulaitus defeated Jimmy Connors at the 1980 Masters, after Connors had beaten him 16 straight times, Gerulaitus said,

    “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitus Gerulaitus 17 times in a row.”

    Yeah the actor playing Borg was pretty darned convincing.

    1. Hahaha. That is pretty funny. (We should start a thread on funniest lines or moments in sports. We should probably exclude Yogi Berra quotes, though.)

  19. Boxing Gym (2010)
    Dir. Frederick Wisemen

    This is a documentary about a boxing gym in Austin, Texas. You know the workplace in the TV show Taxi provides a hang out, and where most of the action occurs in these moments? This film gave me the same feeling. Many scenes involve people talking, in between the workout. I must say the people are diverse, in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, class. Actually, with regard to class and education, many seemed to come from the middle or even upper middle class, and I got the sense many came from the suburbs. I haven’t really analyzed the film, but I found many of the people to be likable, and this kept me engaged.

    ***
    The one scene that stands out involves a man and woman shadow boxing in the ring. The thing is, they’re boxing independently of each other, with both really engrossed in their activity, oblivious to each other. One one level, the scene suggests an ironic isolation–namely, dancing intensely, but without any psychological or social connection to each other, while being so close in proximity. But on another level, there was a nice egalitarian quality to this scene–a signal that the sport had no barriers based on sex (or ethnicity or class).

  20. American Dharma (2019)
    Dir. Errol Morris

    This is Morris’s documentary centered on Steve Bannon, made in a similar interview-style like Morris’s Fog of War and The Unknown Known.

    ***
    Who is Steven Bannon? What makes him so passionate about destroying the elites as a means to champion and help the common man–a view that strikes me as Marxist? (By the way, I sympathize with Bannon’s economic critique, as well as his opinion that a revolution will likely occur unless changes are made. If wealth gap continues to grow–to the point where more people from the middle class begin to really struggle–that really does seem like a situation ripe for political revolution or even violence. But I find this to be a rather banal view, based on limited understanding of history.)

    What’s the connection between economic populism and using Breibart as a platform for the alt-right or his supposed admiration of the novel Camp of the Saints? The connection is not obvious to me, and this is one of the biggest questions I had. Unfortunately, the film does little to explore this, let alone answer this.

    I did wonder if Bannon just used white nationalists–and even Trump himself–as a means to take down the establishment. But again, the film doesn’t really explore this possibility. My best guess is that Bannon is not doing this. I tend to think that white grievance and enthno-nationalism, within Bannon, is his blindspot, something he may not be willing to admit, something that he hides with economic populist ideas. That is, Bannon may actual care about economic justice, but it’s also a cover or rationalization for his white grievance and white nationalism.

    Finally, I would assume Bannon is intelligent in many ways, but in terms of his understanding of politics and government, his understanding strikes me as shallow, simplistic, and his vision seems naively romantic. The thinking and attitude remind me of a earnest college student–one who may be intelligent, but lacking much life experience as well as a substantive understanding of government and the way it functions.

  21. Hail, Caesar! (2016)
    Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
    72/100

    I believe Mitchell recommended this to me, and I consider it a good pick. I’m not what to make of the film in a more objective sense, but I liked it. (Mitchell, if you can find and post your old review or put a link that would be great. I’d be interested in reading your review now.)

    ***
    What’s the movie about? Movie making, yes, but something more…Maybe something about one’s vocation? I’m not sure. I’m curious to hear if Mitchell thinks that there is a more serious religious or spiritual angle to the film, as I suspect that there is. I should probably spend more time analyzing the film, but I may never get around to do so, so here are some thoughts off the top of my head:

    1. Brolin’s character had the potential to be a really strong character, one that could have earned an Oscar nomination (Think of of Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo.) I like Josh Brolin as an actor, but he or the writers were missing something that could take into that realm. I liked the character, though.

    2. Two scenes I really liked: “Would that it were so simple” and the discussion among religious leaders about the movie.

    3. You ever see an actor, and they remind you of another, but you can’t think of who it is? That’s what I thought when I saw Alden Ehrenreich. At some point in the film, it came to me–Leonardo DiCaprio. Ehrenreich looks like he could be a younger brother or cousin. It was a little distracting. (Strangely, in Solo I didn’t think of DiCaprio.)

    1. Interesting you’d ask for the old reviews. Converting the old entries to this VI is one of my projects now, and I was going to start with the old movie reviews. Stick around.

      Were you impressed with Ehrenreich? That was my biggest takeaway, that this was a young actor who could really do things, which is what we all thought of DiCaprio if we saw What’s Eating Gilbert Grape when it was in theaters.

      Also, you can see why I was so vocally in favor of his playing Han Solo before the film came out.

    2. Were you impressed with Ehrenreich?

      Not while watching it, for some reason–probably because he kept reminding me of DiCaprio. But now that I think about it, he did a solid job. Having said that, I’m not sure I would be so enthusiastic about him playing Han Solo, although this is definitely colored by having already seen his performance, which I thought was just OK. Speaking of which, I wonder who would be a good Han Solo. Ehrenreich’s performance had almost none of Harrison Ford’s cocky, swagger and humor. I wonder if there is any young actor that does have this? From the 1970s, until now, I’m not sure there have been many actors with that attribute. Burt Reynolds and Bruce Willis are names that immediately come to mind, but their version had a different flavor. I must be missing someone.

      1. Young versions of these guys immediately came to mind, I think for obvious reasons. Also probably not good choices because they’re all way too old. Ice-T, Ice-Cube, Will Smith, Common, Ludacris, and T.I. Young Will Smith probably could have pulled it off, although his acting is nowhere near as good as Ehrenreich’s.

      2. Will Smith is a good one, but he has a different flavor of cocky. But you’re not thinking of him in the Han Solo role, were you?

  22. The Aeronauts (2019)
    Dir. Tom Harper
    62/100

    In 19th century England, scientist James Glaisher, aspires to identify weather patterns to predict weather conditions. To accomplish, he wants to take a hot air balloon into the atmosphere to gather data. The scientific community dismisses the idea, and Glaisher seeks out Amelia Wren, a woman who has piloted a hot air balloon. The film chronicles their journey.

    **
    The film had one fairly significant weakness for me–namely, the two main characters feel under-developed, and because of that they seem a little hollow, and I think that made it harder to really care about them. Additionally, the relationship between the two lacked a spark (and I don’t mean a romantic one). I think these problems diminished some of the action set pieces, although they seemed somewhat predictable as well.

  23. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (2018)
    Dir. Julien Farault
    44/100

    This documentary about John McEnroe is based heavily on footage made by a French tennis enthusiast who made instructional tennis films, shooting great tennis players, ostensibly to reveal minute details about their form. Because of this, the camera is often focused on one player. This, plus insightful commentary, could have been a really interesting approach if it revealed details that could expand one’s understanding of tennis technique, the player, or tennis more broadly. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have that experience watching the film.

    The film also spends time discussing the McEnroe’s psychology and emotional style. Again, this subject interests me, but the film really failed to provide any interesting insights on McEnroe or sports psychology in general.

    The film probably doesn’t receive a lower score because watching and hearing McEnroe’s emotional outbursts, and getting to see some of footage of matches (e.g., between Lendl) held my interest. One part of the film’s premise also seem to compare sports with movies–something that I found really interesting and promising. Maybe I missed the interesting tidbits, but the film really didn’t deliver on this promise for me.

  24. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)
    Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and a cast of thousands. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

    In 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, two side characters in Kevin Smith’s early films become central characters. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) learn a movie is being made about them without their permission, so they drive to Hollywood to stop the film. While the stoner-slacker buddy road-trip movie is stupid beyond words, it’s also smart, clever, and fun, and I’ll repeat my assertion that Smith is the most Gen X of Gen X screenwriters.

    In 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, the same characters learn a reboot is in production — without their permission — of the movie they tried to stop in 2001, so they drive to Hollywood to stop the film. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot takes aim at Hollywood’s recent creative climate of sequels, remakes, and reboots, while at the same time being all three.

    I’m not kidding. In one very explainy scene, our heroes learn the difference between a sequel, a remake, and a reboot, and it’s clear very early that the movie we’re watching is all of them.

    The easiest thing to say about a Kevin Smith film in his View Askewniverse is that it’s so self-referential with so many jokes about itself, if you’re jumping in for the first time, you’re unlikely to enjoy it, because you’d have to appreciate it on its surface, and there’s just not enough there. Chasing Amy is probably the one exception.

    Yet if you see more than one of these films, it’s nearly impossible to miss the thing that makes Smith a hero to his faithful: his characters grow up, and in doing so, they show us Smith’s (and now Mewes’s) own growth. Smith doesn’t merely wear his heart on his sleeve; he paints it on his forehead, openly discussing—in podcasts, interviews, and his live Q&A shows—not only his fears and failures, but his love for his family and friends, and his tenacious loyalty to both.

    I saw Clerks II (2006) in a theater and hated it until the closing credits rolled and I realized I loved what Smith did. He brought his characters back for yet another stupid-smart movie and delivered a treatise on Gen Xers hitting middle age. Not just these Gen Xers, but Gen Xers as a whole.

    So here’s this movie, laden with callbacks and appearances by characters from his past films, referencing Smith’s real-life, well-known adventures (a near-fatal heart attack and subsequent weight loss and conversion to veganism; a highly publicized adventure in an airplane where he was ruled too fat to fly) and loaded with his friends and family (his mother, wife, and daughter are in the film, as is Mewes’s daughter), plus stupid jokes and entire dialogues lifted from other films.

    In one scene, a klansman steals Cyrus’s “Caaaaaan youuuuuuu digiiiiiiit?” from The Warriors and immediately after, in the same scene, Silent Bob delivers Alec Baldwin’s “always be closing” monologue from Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s shameless idolatry and it’s pretty dang funny, because Smith’s purpose is not to create a coherent story. It’s to have as much fun with as many friends as possible while allowing his characters to grow up the way real people do.

    Because I’m Smith’s intended audience, I can’t lie. I bought it, and then I watched it twice more. My only real disappointment is that the DVD doesn’t come with a director’s track. The director’s commentary is the best thing about a Kevin Smith DVD, so I’ll be waiting for a tenth anniversary re-release by the Criterion Collection.

    81/100
    8/10

    1. I noticed that I can stream this film, but I’m wondering if its important to see all of Smith’s previous films, and should they be relatively fresh in one’s mind?

      1. The more you’ve seen the more you’ll catch, but of course that’s not important. I’d be pretty darn surprised if you even got through this though. What Kevin Smith films have you seen?

        Also, I should emphasize that it doesn’t reference all of his films; it references the films in the Jay and SIlent Bob univerise: Clerks, Clerks II, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma, Zack and MIri Make a Porno, and some side projects I’ve never seen like the Comic Book Men TV reality series and (I think) an animated Jay and Silent Bob series. I don’t think Jersey Girl is in this universe, but a couple of quick references are made to that too.

        Also, a lot depends on your feelings about Jay and Silent Bob, the characters. If you’re fond of them, you’ll get through this at least. If you don’t get their appeal, I got nothing for you, man. 🙂

        Oh, it also adds to the enjoyment if you know a little about Kevin Smith’s and Jason Mewes’s personal lives. But seriously, that’s just bonus.

    2. The more you’ve seen the more you’ll catch, but of course that’s not important.

      “Of course” seems too strong. The references could have been important to grasp.

      I’d be pretty darn surprised if you even got through this though. What Kevin Smith films have you seen?

      Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma–I think that’s it.

      Also, a lot depends on your feelings about Jay and Silent Bob, the characters. If you’re fond of them, you’ll get through this at least.

      Yeah, I liked them. For example, I think they were my favorite aspect of Dogma. I’m not sure if I still like them now, though.

  25. The Green Hornet (2011)
    Dir. Michel Gondry
    Starring: Jay Chou, Seth Rogen, Christof Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos.
    37/100

    A film adaptation of the old TV show about a masked crime fighter and his trusty martial arts sidekick, a duo similar to Batman and Robin, with one notable difference—namely, the Hornet’s side-kick was Asian—and not just any Asian, but Bruce Lee. For Asian-Americans, fans of Bruce Lee, and maybe progressive Americans, this detail was a source of bitterness, as the older show didn’t really allow Lee to to go much further than playing a subservient role, hewing to past and present Asian. A desire to rectify this seems to be a key driving force behind this adaptation. The plan seems to be to not only make Kato, the Asian sidekick, clearly the more capable of the two, but portray the titular character as a bungling, spoiled, doofus, casting Seth Rogen in the part. The result is a superhero action, comedy that attempts a cinematic penance to Bruce Lee and all his fans. In a way, the film could have been called, Kato Bruce Lee’s Revenge!.

    Unfortunately, I think the film largely fails, stemming primarily from some combination of the casting, writing and directing of the two main characters. Let’s start with Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, a.k.a. the Green Hornet. Rogen’s film persona is lovable, teddy-bear doofus, but, here, the filmmakers also make him a spoiled, immature, and kind of crude rich kid. Rogen seems like an actor who can create a likable and funny character, but, for whatever reason, he and the filmmakers failed. He’s kind of a jerk—and not one that starts off that way and then, through the course of the film, changes and becomes more likable. The film does try to follow this trajectory, but it failed for me.
    The filmmakers, including Jay Chou, fail with the Kato character as well. For starters, this Kato is not only a badass fighter, but an engineering savant a la Tony Stark. The film never convincingly establishes the reasons Kato would willing serve as Reid’s sidekick, or why he would even be Reid’s friend, for that matter. Strong chemistry between the two characters could have done the trick, but that was also lacking. The filmmakers might have overcame some of these issues if the film depicted Kato as the one actually being in control, but hiding this fact from everyone, including Reid. (This would be the same premise using in animated features Hong Kong Fooey or even Wallace and Grommit.)

    And speaking of cartoons, in my view, the film would have benefited from being more cartoon-like, or at least less conventional, more zany. (Terry Gilliam might have been another interesting director.) Instead, Gondry’s quirkiness, both in terms of the narrative and the visuals, are really muted and minimal, wasting his talents, resulting in a more conventional Hollywood superhero/comedy. It left me asking why they even choose him to direct this.

    1. I like Michel Gondry, although I really disliked Mood Indigo. Have you seen Science of Sleep? I think you would like that.

  26. Roma (2018)
    Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
    82/100

    Let me start by talking about the reasons I wasn’t enthusiastic about seeing this film, in spite of the critical acclaim, Cuaron’s filmmaking acumen, and my desire to see visually satisfying films, which I anticipated from this film. First of all, I anticipated a well-worn story and themes—namely, a sympathetic, and possibly melodramatic, portrayal of servant of a well-to-do family, with progressive critique of social and political injustice. There are certain storylines that I don’t have much interest in these days—e.g., movies about gangster (which is why I haven’t seen Scorsese’s The Irishman) and anti-war movies. Second, I am wary of memoirs made by directors—specifically, I think these films can be self-indulgent and emotionally overwrought. I think directors can lose sight of what will be emotionally meaningful to people outside of the director and his personal circle.

    Much, but not all, of what I anticipated proved true, but, happily, I enjoyed the film a lot. In a way, the film reminds me of my experience with the movie Babe. I had zero interest in seeing that film, even when I kept hearing praise from both critics and people I knew. Like Roma, I anticipated many things that limited any interest in the film; and like Roma much of what I anticipated proved accurate—and yet I really enjoyed that movie.

    So why did I like the film? I’ll go over that in the next section.

    ***
    There are several reasons, some surprising and inexplicable. For example, I found the story and Cleo, the housekeeper, compelling—I cared about her—but I didn’t find the character, as written, interesting or original. At the same time, Yatliza Apirizo, the actor who plays the Cleo, was well-cast and delivered a quiet, subtle performance that was effective. (It could be that I’m not fully appreciating her acting.)

    The cinematic aspects of this movie also fulfilled my expectations, and it started at the very beginning with one of the better opening credits that I can remember:

    I would add that the one of the denouement and the ending credits echo this opening, with the waves and airplane motifs. (If I had more time I’d explore the significance and meaning of those metaphors.)

    Finally, for me, Cuaron did a good job of avoiding treacly sentimentality and obvious and heavy-handed social critiques. What we see feels more like an objective recounting of situations (from Cuaron’s past), reminiscent of the Ozu’s filmmaking. In a lot of ways, this does feel like Cuaron doing Ozu, and I suspect fans of Ozu will really like this. I should say that the film does not lack powerful emotional moments. Perhaps some may classify some as overly-sentimental. But the overall quiet, even-handed directing and storytelling give these moments power, without crossing a line.

    1. The night I watched Borg vs McEnroe, I came this close to watching this instead. It’s definitely near the top of my list right now.

  27. Theory of Obscurity: a Film About the Residents (2015)
    Dir. Don Hardy
    68/100

    This is a documentary about The Residents, an avant-garde rock group, who should more accurately be thought of as multi-media artists, reminiscent of Devo. I didn’t know a lot about the group prior to this documentary, but this film seems like a decent introduction to them.

    ***
    I think I like them more as artists versus musicians. Based on listening to the live performances their music reminds me of Zappa’s dadaist songs, although less interesting musically. Zappa, and some the descriptions of his live shows, also sound like in a very similar vein as The Residents.

    Having said that, I’m listening to and liking the album Third Reich ‘n Roll. I think the concept is taking some of the best moments of hit records and eliminating the rest, while adding in their own music and lyrics. The actual music kind of reminds me of John Zorn’s “jump-cut” approach. In any event, the music here sounds a lot better than the live music I heard in the film (which, to be fair, were often just snippets, not entire performances).

  28. Winter Sleeps (2014)
    Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
    37/100

    A long (three hours), Turkish domestic tale, in a kind of Chekhovian way–i.e., family members doing a lot of sitting and talking. Since I’ve enjoyed the Chekhov plays that I’ve seen, and I’ve also enjoyed two of Ceylan’s other films, I was excited to see this.

    ***
    Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this film. None of the characters were likeable, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I could view them sympathetically. The film felt like a series of scenes that almost show the worst in these characters–their superficiality, in terms of morals and ethics; their pettiness, passive-aggressiveness and sniping. They also seemed to lack self-awareness and a capacity to be hones and real with one’s self. It could very well be that I’m missing something, but that was my reaction.

    Visually I also didn’t find this film as interesting as the other two films by Ceylan that I saw.

  29. JIm and Andy: the Great Beyond (2017)
    Dir. Chris Smith
    67/100

    Most of this film is essentially behind the scenes footage of the making of Man on the Moon, the Milos Forman bio-pic of Andy Kaufman. (Jim Carrey is interviewed in this movie, and I believe the interview occurred during or right after the making of the biopic.)

    When I saw the bio-pic, many years ago, while I thought Carey’s portrayal was excellent, I found the film underwhelming. I had scene a documentary on Kaufman prior to the film, and I don’t think the biopic added much, besides showcasing Carey bringing Kaufman back to life. I sort of felt the same thing about this film, with one exception which made it a better film than Man on the Moon. I’ll reveal that in the next section.

    (Note: The film isn’t just about Kaufman, but it also examines Carey as a entertainer and person as well, althogugh I didn’t find this as interesting as the aspect I mention in the next section.)

    ***
    Method actors are notorious for immersing themselves into their roles–staying in character even when the camera is not rolling. I can see some people rolling their eyes at this, but Carey did this while making Man on the Moon, with good reason, and it made this recent documentary worthwhile. A big part of Kaufman’s art was breaking barriers between what was real and what was false, and this involved raising questions about where his act began and ended. In a way he was a comedic con-man. Pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes was part of the joke. And so Carey, as Kaufman and Tony Clifton, does that with everyone he encounters on the set. He essentially recreate Kaufman’s act, make the documentary a very meta, meta movie. For me it wears thin at some point, but the whole approach was interesting overall.

    1. I really enjoyed Man on the Moon so I’m going to seek this.

      I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs
      I’m tossing out punchlines that were never there
      Over my shoulder a piano falls
      Crashing to the ground…

    2. I think there’s a decent chance you’ll like this. I’ll be surprised if you strongly dislike it, and I wouldn’t surprised if you like it quite a bit (although I wouldn’t predict that).

  30. Sudden Fear (1945)
    Dir. David Miller
    Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, etc.
    62/100

    A playwright (Crawford) insists an actor (Palance) in her play is no right for the part and has him removed. After a successful run of the play, the playwright, while on a train to San Francisco, runs into the actor.

    Man, the filmmaking–the direction, acting and editing, in particular–in the first 30 minutes of this film is close to perfect. I was really excited.

    By the way, I’m intentionally being vague in my description. The description I read gave away a bit too much in my view (not that I would highly recommend this film to the other idiots).

    ***
    In the beginning Wes Craven’s Red Eye, Cillian Murphy plays a predator to Rachel McAdams’s prey. But the chemistry between the two in the early part of the film, before the hunt began, made wonder what would have happened if Craven made a romance or rom-com. That’s what happened in Sudden Fear. The romance between Crawford and Palance was surprisingly effective.

    Unfortunately, things really started to go downhill once that romance is shattered. It wasn’t the ending of the romance that was the problem. Instead, the characters actions became a bit unbelievable as did Crawford’s characters scheme. The film was still a bit entertaining, but those failing really took me out of the movie. By the way, something similar happened in Red Eye, a film I also thought exhibited strong direction.

  31. M.F.K.Z. (2017)
    Dir. Guillaume Renard, Shoujirou Nishimi

    To call this animated film “anime” would be slightly misleading, mainly because the characters are drawn more in the style of Beevus and Butthead rather than the typical anime look. On the other hand, the film draws the setting, a post-apocalyptic L.A., with a lot of detail that can be found in some good anime movies. (It actually made me think of Pinnochio.)

    The film is a bit odd. For example, the head of Vinz, the main character’s best friend, is a a flaming skull. The main character, Angelino, is being hunted by a police force. Angelino and Vinz, while running away, eventually learn the reason for this.

    **
    I liked the gritty animation and freakish characters. But the story eventually turns out to be kinda bland.

    1. Anime means Japanese animation, so I don’t think any artistic style is a violation of this term. However, of course there’s a Japanese look and feel, so it’s worth it to mention any great differences from expectations when reviewing the product.

    2. However, of course there’s a Japanese look and feel, so it’s worth it to mention any great differences from expectations when reviewing the product.

      Yeah, that’s where I was coming from. By the way, here’s a trailer:

      I guess the main characters do fall within the range of what one would consider the anime style. Within that style there is a more cartoon-y look versus a more realistic one (e.g., Doraimon), but I think that’s worth noting, or at least that’s something I’d like to know.

  32. Boy (2010)
    Dir. Taika Waititi
    63/100

    Coming-of-age film about a lower-income, middle school Maori boy, nicknamed, “Boy,” and visit from his father, who walked out on the family.

    The film is probably better than than the score above (much closer to a 70), but the score reflects response, which was influenced by personal experiences. I’ll go over that in the next section.

    I would describe this a drama-comedy.

    **
    The story and characters reminded me a lot of many of the kids I worked with in Wai’anae, including the way they looked. Mostly the circumstances stood out, particularly the fact that Boy was basically a parent for his siblings, having to cook meals, but also not having very much money. The kids were likable enough, but they don’t have a lot of opportunities to reach their potential, and it doesn’t seem like they have enough adult guidance as well. It is not a happy situation, and this film reminded me of the real people living in those situations now. That dampened my enjoyment of the film.

    If I take that element out of it, the story overall isn’t great, but the acting is solid acting, especially from the children, and a few fairly poignant moments.

  33. What Happened, Ms. Simone? (2015)
    Dir. Liz Garbus
    68/100

    I saw some things in ths music documentary about Nina Simone that I don’t think I can’t remember seeing about bio-pic about a musician. I’ll go into that in the next section.

    ***
    A common notion for musicians is that they turn to music to cope wtih and even transcend the pain they have to deal with. Personal suffering can be transformed into something beautiful–and the music can be a salve or even a way to experience some joy. Simone, in this documentary, seems like a musician who never found comfort or joy from music. “Dour” is one word that comes to mind when I think of the performances featured in this film. I don’t think I’ve seen another bio-pic of a musician where the musician seems so unhappy while performing. I was keenly aware of her suffering and unhappiness (or at least it seemed as if she felt this way), and if musicians looked so dour and unhappy while performing, I don’t think I would be able to enjoy the music, no matter how good it sounded.

    I have no idea if this was representative of most of her performances or if it accurately reflected the way she felt. I do think the documentary constructs a narrative that her performance–specifically, vocal performances she was famous for–was largely a joyless, maybe even bitter, job for her. I say bitter because she was raised to be the first black female classical pianist. But she was eventually rejected from a music school (which she claims was based on race; which isn’t hard to believe). This forced her to perform in clubs, and she was forced to sing. She eventually made a profitable career–but, again, the film portrays this as giving her very little joy.

  34. The Death of Stalin (2017)
    Dir. Armando Iannucci
    54/100

    The title basically says it all. Stalin dies, those around him scramble including scramble for power. What’s a bit odd is that the humor is British, but the characters are Russian, and the director is Italian (although maybe he’s a British citizen)?

    Anyway, the film for me starts off promising–namely, I thought it was pretty funny. But once Stalin dies, the film became less funny and less interesting to me for some reason.

  35. The Time Machine (2002)
    Dir. Simon Wells
    54/100

    H.G. Well’s adaptation. Not terrible, perhaps, but not all that good.

  36. Kansas City Confidential (1952)
    Dir. Phil Karlson
    Starring: John Payne, Jack Elam, Neville Brand, Lee van Cleef, etc.
    59/100

    You know heist films where the criminals find ways to hide their identities from each other? This is one of those films. The actual overall concept is pretty cool, but the film took some wrong turns for me in the third act.

  37. Bullet Head (2017)
    Dir. Paul Solet
    Starring: Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas, etc.
    58/100

    The kind of film where the idea would excite people in filmmaking (especially if they’ve been struggling to find good material). There’s a good concept and potentially good story here–so much so that, if everything goes right, this could be a big hit. On the other hand, it’s also the type of film where if everything doesn’t go right, the film can fall flat. Unfortunately, I thought the second occurred.

    The premise: Three thieves (Brody, Malcovich, and Culkin) are hiding out in an abandoned warehouse. Without spoiling the movie, they run into a problem while in the warehouse. If you don’t care about learning more, I’ll give more details (but not major spoilers) in the next section, which may entice readers to watch the film.

    I wouldn’t really recommend the film, though. To me, it’s barely a decent film to watch on a boring Saturday night.

    **
    The night before the heist, a dog fight took place in the warehouse. One of the losing dogs was supposed to be put down after, but something goes awry. The dog is now in the warehouse, but the three thieves don’t know this.

    The interest of the film rests on two devices:

    1. The predicaments that the protagonists get into and out of, mostly relating to the loose dog. In my view these situations weren’t that interesting, but others may disagree.

    2. Each protagnoist retells a tale from the past, always involving a pet. Unfortunately, for me the stories, with maybe one exception, were largely dull.

    If both of these aspects worked well, the film would have been a lot better for me.

    There’s another element that would elevated the film, but that’s even more of a spoiler–but I’ll mention that in the next section.

    ***

    The film is dedicated is dedicated to a dog, ostensibly the director’s dog. The film definitely has a dog or pet love vibe running through the films. These thieves are very softhearted (which did defy expectations I had for Malcovich’s character), and that’s revealed through their attitude towards dogs.

    At one point, I thought the film was trying to use the dog as a metaphor for Brody’s character–something that I thought was an intriguing idea. I didn’t deeply analyze the film, but I don’t sense there is much there, for that.

  38. The Florida Project (2017)
    Dir. Sean Baker
    Starring: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, etc.
    73/100

    Well-made movie–a kind of cross between a slice-of-life, reminiscent of David Gordon Greene’s George Washington and a character-driven film–specifically, Dafoe’s an Vinaite’s. Dafoe delivers a performance where I say it’s really good because I end up really liking the character, more than the display of acting chops. On the other hand, Vinaite’s performance stands out for her chops. If it’s not award worthy, then it’s close.

    I should also mention the child actors are solid in this. Prince is good, but there is something that felt just a smidge unnatural to me, similar to, although not to the same degree as Haley Joe Osment’s performance in The Sixth Sense.

    The interesting thing for me is that much of my reaction to this was very similar to my reaction to Taika Waititi’s Boy, although I should say that Waititi’s film has a more whimsical tone. Totally different place (country, even), different ethnicity, but both felt very, very familiar–and to both film’s credit, real–to me, and not really in a pleasant way.

    ***
    At some point, I kept expecting some tragedy in this, and feeling got really strong in the third act. I felt like if it ended in a intense tragedy, it would by a bit preachy and judgmental–condemning the Halley character and people like her. But yet, I couldn’t think of a more satisfying ending, and a satisfying ending really could elevate this film into another level.

    The actual ending was a mixed bag for me. I liked that things catch up with Halley. The trajectory of the film is moving in that direction, but the actual ending the tragic resolution is very muted, almost matter-of-fact. On the other hand, the run towards Disneyworld didn’t work as well to me. It sort of felt thrown in there, as if the filmakers couldn’t think of any other way to end it.

  39. Marriage Story (2019)
    Dir. Noah Baumbach
    Starring: Scarlett Johansen, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, etc.
    74/100

    Divorce Story seems like a more apt title, as this film is almost a divorce procedural at times–i.e., a film showing the process of a divorce–and Laura Dern almost steals the show. She gives a memorable speech about mothers and fathers, and she and Liotta are great during a scene of legal sparring (the writing is really good, too). I’m guessing Dern got nominated for supporting actor.

    Anyway, back to the film. Based on other films I’ve seen by Baumbach, I would describe his films as situation dramas. His films feature a situation more than a strong narrative. And the acting,, more than the characters themselves (who aren’t really original or memorable in my view) is central to the films. In a way, John Casavettes would be a comparison, but Baumbach’s films are far more mainstream and Hollywood. The acting and dramatic moments may not achieve an all-time great level, but they’re good, if not very good. It is the type of movie of serious drama the Academy likes to award.

    1. Laura Dern did finally win her Oscar for this.

      I saw Frances Ha and Mistress America and really liked them both, so this has been on my radar. I would say the characters in Mistress America are not exactly mainstream Hollywood. Actually maybe not in Frances Ha either.

    2. I haven’t seen Mistress America. I didn’t realize Baumbach directed Frances Ha, and I may not classify that as mainstream, in terms of the characters and acting. From what I recall it has a more indy-mainstream vibe, if that makes sense. But in relation to Casavettes or even Maren Ade movies, I’d call them mainstream. Squid and the Whale fits what I was getting at. Kicking and Screaming a little less so, perhaps–more indy-mainstream.

      1. I take back my “really liked them both” statement. There were things about Mistress America I liked, but overall I think it fell a little short. I need to look up my review and see what I wrote.

  40. Moonlight (2018)
    Dir. Barry Jenkins
    70/100

    Solid movie. The characters kept me engaged, and the film kept my attention throughout, but somehow I felt a little underwhelmed.

    1. There were some touching moments, and I thought the acting was OK, although I didn’t care for the younger version of the Kevin character.

      Part of my reaction may be due to being oversaturated with movies–and I recently saw at least two films prior to this dealing with characters with a similar socioeconomic status.

      Did you have a review up for this film? I can’t remember.

      1. I don’t think I ever reviewed it.

        Man, that scene where the boy asks Mahershala Ali if he’s a fag**t is very well done. It’s the thing I remember most about this film.

    2. Man, that scene where the boy asks Mahershala Ali if he’s a fag**t is very well done. It’s the thing I remember most about this film.

      I was curious to see how Ali’s character would answer that question, and I was impressed with his answer (as well as his honesty when Chiron asks if he deals drugs).

      By the way, Chiron’s story is a touching one–being bullied, deprived of love and guidance from his mother; and even his triumph over some earlier fears, when he becomes a man, he’s still has others, and is largely trapped.

      Having said that, I think I preferred the film Ballast, which dealt with similar themes, although I could be wrong about all this as I can’t remember the details of that film very well.

  41. Uncut Gems (2019)
    Dir. Benny and Josh Safdie
    Starring: Adam Sandler,
    73/100

    I feel like Don would like Sandler’s character in this, and that the story would keep his attention. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about the film overall, though. For what it’s worth, I think Sandler’s performance (character) was deserving of an Oscar nomination, and it’s probably the best performance I’ve seen from him. (I should also add that the casting was really good in this. The Safdie’s used a lot of non-actors, and it worked well.)

    Here’s a short description of the film: Howard Ratner owns a New York jewelry store. He also happen to be a man who likes to gamble. I’ll give more information (minor spoilers at worst) in the next section.

    **
    You know those guys who spin plates on long, skinny poles? Imagine a guy who recklessly adds more plates to spin. That’s what it’s like watching this film. Some people enjoy the suspense generated from this, but I had a hard time doing so–because a) my tolerance for suspense is very low these days, and b) I really liked the Ratner character and was rooting for him. Additionally, this was the type of movie where the trajectory points to a tragic ending–either that, or a sappy, unbelievable one. All these things added made the film experience a little stressful. Still, the film kept my attention. It was sort of like Goodfellas in that way. That film was also not really enjoyable to watch–because I knew it would not end well for one or more of the characters–but it really kept my attention throughout.

    I must say that my reaction to the film, as I’ve gained distance from it, has increased. It’s almost like the more removed I am emotionally from this film, the more highly I think of it. Which reaction should I rely on to evaluate the film? I’m not sure.

    ***
    (Notes, including spoilers)

    I need to think about the reason for the title. Also, the score for this is a little unusual, too. There were also these scenes where the camera “shrinks,” as if it’s moving filming something on the microscopic level. I’d like to figure out the motivation for all of this.

    I must say that the denouement left me with the frustrated feeling of, “What’s the point?” But the ending, and the film overall, seems better and better as I gain more distance from the film. On one level, it seems as if fate, life is just against Ratner. He can’t cut a break. On the other hand, one could argue that that actually fate/life is just. Ratner was reckless and foolish to an extreme degree. What could you expect? Amidst this, watching the energy of the character and his “juggling act” was engaging and even entertaining. I especially liked watching him get crushed and then recover–with a really good speech to the NBA player. But overall, putting aside my rooting interest, the ending feels right.

    1. I’m surprised you watched this. As you mention, you dislike movies where the main character leads himself down a spiral of self-destruction. So this characteristic’s not a deal-breaker for you, huh? Like you would still see a movie for other reasons, knowing it’s like this?

    2. I don’t think there’s anything that is an absolute dealbreaker, but stories of doomed characters are a hard sell.

      With this film, I didn’t know a lot about it going in. The short clip that Netflix showed elevated my interest in this, and I was in the right mood.

  42. The Vast of Night (2020)
    Dir. Andrew Patterson
    52/100

    The rating is low, but a lot of that reflects my subjective reaction to the film. I could see Mitchell liking this, at least mildy, or even getting excited about, especially if he knew nothing about it going in. My guess is that Don would just think this was OK, at best.

    **
    The film is set in the 1950s. It follows a young radio DJ, and switchboard operator. A strange noise is on one of the lines, and the switchboard operator asks the radio DJ for help identifying the sound. The film revolves around this mystery.

    I watched this film because of an Atlantic
    review. (Normally, I don’t heed their reviews, but the writer recently wrote a piece on original films that boosted his credibility for me.) Here’s something he said that I agree with:

    It reminded me of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, Rian Johnson’s Brick, or Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook—all small-scale genre pieces that functioned as calling-card movies, in which their directors threw every bit of visual panache they could at viewers with the energy of someone who might not get another chance.

    The filmmaking is really impressive, especially if the budget was small. One doesn’t make a period film on a low-budget. The fact that the film is set in a small town, and the action takes place at night helps, but their ability to recreate the time period is very impressive. (The had a large cast of extras, who had the right clothes, hair-styles, and even physical features.) The camera-work (e.g., long, unedited takes) and cinematography was also impressive. Patterson is definitely one to watch, and if I were just rating the filmmaking, especially in terms of recreating the time period, on a low budget, this would get much higher marks.

    In the next section I’ll explain what didn’t work for me.

    ***
    1. Moments that are supposed to have impact weren’t as effective because they were unoriginal, and the story is predictable. A part of me feels like the director didn’t care about the story, and just focused on other aspects of filmmaking, as if he only cared about showing his.

    2. The film moves back and forth between a 50’s TV screen frame, using black-and-white film, to a movie frame, using color film. I thought this was an unnecessary gimmick, and took me out of the movie.

  43. Girl Walk//All Day (2011)
    Dir. Jacob Krupnick
    57/100
    87 minutes

    David Sims of theAltantic listed this film as one of 30 essential films that are unlike anything you’ve seen before. (You can watch it for free here). I would say the film is different, but I wouldn’t call this essential.

    The film is about a young female dancer, and her walk through New York City.

    **
    The film can be seen in full or in chapters. I think the first chapter is worth watching.

    I like the spirit behind this film, but I have one main criticism for it: it’s too long. Had the film been half or a third as long, I think that might have been perfect.

    ***
    One of the other problems I had was the dancing. Think of a teacher lecturing for an hour in an elementary classroom. I’m not sure expecting the students to sit still and listen, for that long, is reasonable–unless the teacher is really engaging, and even entertaining. The film is in a similar situation. The dances and dancers are fun, but an hour and twenty minutes of continuous dancing is really difficult to pull off. The best dancers and choreographers in the world would have a tough time pulling that off.

  44. Triple Frontier (2019)
    Dir. J.C. Chandor
    Starring: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund,
    45/100

    Action/heist(?) flick. Five retired special forces guys decide to rob a drug cartel kingpin. It was disappointing, and, at times, kinda boring.

    Another problem involved the characters, specifically Affleck’s. The film creates the impression that he’s a really good leader, planner/strategist. All the other guys seem to look up to him. But during the film he makes poor judgments, and I don’t think the film provides enough to construct a satisfying explanation for this, nor does it really enhance the story. On a side note, I remember not understanding why people really disliked Affleck. I don’t know if he’s gotten worse or my tastes have changed, but I don’t really care for him anymore.

  45. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
    Dir. Noah Baumbach
    Starring: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Eizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, etc.
    67/100

    I think Mitchell might like this, but I don’t know how much. Larri watched this with all the way through–she was pretty engaged, as I was. I suspect Don would also be, but I’m not sure how much he’d like this.

    **
    I described Baumbach’s Marriage Story as a “situation-drama,” and this film has that flavor as well. In this film, Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) is a minor artist who never really go over the failure of becoming a major one. He is extremely ego-centric, maybe even narissistic; and these qualities reveal themselves mostly clearly in this conversations with his children. He is seemingly talking with them, but he’s really not. The closest he comes to a real dialogue occurs when the subject is himself. When the subject is not himself, he talks over that subject, as if it doesn’t exist. Really, seeing these interactions between Hoffman and the other actors might be the most interesting parts of the film for me. At the same time, they’re the most unpleasant, almost painful, scenes to watch–making the film difficult to enjoy. We also see the effects this has on his children (played by Sandler, Stiller, and Marvel). Sandler’s usual charisma that I find attractive is missing (and that was disappointing). It’s like he’s walking with this tail between his legs from the entire film. Yes, it’s appropriate for the character; no, I didn’t care for this on some level.

    In spite of the patriarch’s parental limitations, all of his children turn out to be really decent people. And I guess if you add this all up as a idea, it’s an interesting one, but in terms of a story, there doesn’t seem to be a lot there–or what’s there narratively doesn’t seem all that strong. If you like character studies–or, in this case, family studies, perhaps–this might be the film for you.

  46. Black, White & Us (2017)
    Dir. Loki Mulholland
    68/100

    This is a documentary about white couples in Utah that have adopted black children. According to the couples, racism becomes personal and palpable for them (and their biological offspring, for those that had them) in a way that it never would have. The film also underscores the difficulty that African-Americans have, with just every day living–and this often revealed by the white parents talking about the way they have to instruct their African-American children. For example, one couple talked about how they do not allow their their son to play with a toy gun, or even bow and arrow, outside of the house.

  47. The Platform (2019)
    Dir. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
    72/100

    I’m not sure if you guys would really like this, but I suspect you would find it interesting, and it would keep your attention. (I would go in blind, if possible.)

    This is a Spanish film. A guy wakes up and finds himself in what looks like a rather large jail cell. There’s big rectangular hole in the middle of the floor, revealing many similar rooms above and below. Soon a flat platform with food drops down from the rectangular hole above. Another man is in the cell, and he begins to explain what is happening.

    This is the type of film that could flounder and drag, but for the most part the film avoids that, as it keeps adding and building different facets to the story. The narrative development is quite good in this. There are some interesting ideas, and I think it might have been a good film to discuss.

    If this is not enough to entice you, here’s more: This is an Twilight Zone episode, and a good one at that, stretched out into a movie. I would describe this as a socio-political parable.

    ***
    I sort of feel like the ending is a bit unearned–at least if I understand it properly. The girl is a message for hope, innocence, the potential for good, something precious. That she is found and sent to the powers that be suggests that there is hope for humanity–that humans can transcend their selfishness, and be decent. Maybe this is the wrong reading.

    It would be worth interpreting different aspects of the film, but I don’t have the motivation to do that right now.

  48. Knives Out (2019)
    Dir. Rian Johnson
    Starring: Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Toni Collete, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, etc.
    73/100

    A good mystery, one that should at least satisfy anyone who is in the mood for this, if not leaving them feeling they watched a great film.

    **
    Classic whodunit: one death and several suspects in a mansion-like home, with a detective hired to investigate. The execution is solid. I have two problems, one that I can pin on the filmmakers, while the other might be my problem.

    ***
    Daniel Craig seemed wrong for Benoit Blanc. Blanc is a Southern gentlemen, or speaks and acts that way. As soon as Craig speaks, I’m aware of his attempt at a Southern accent. “That’s Daniel Craig trying to do a Southern accent. Let’s see how he does.” I didn’t think he did a great job, and it was a distracting. Why not cast an American actor from the South or at least one who could do an authentic Southern accent. Off the top of my head, Chris Cooper is someone who came to mind, although maybe his vibe is more yeoman, salt-of-the-earth type, rather than a refined Southern gentlemen. What about someone like Donald Glover? He might be a little too young. If I have more time, I’m sure I can think of a lot more alternatives. Matthew McConaughey might have been good for this role, although maybe a bit dull. Maybe someone not as good looking. Bill Bob Thornton? Anyway, with the right actor, this could have been a memorable character, leading to an award-winning type of performance.

    By the way, while watching the film, I wondered if Craig’s character would be more of a buffoon, a faux great detective. In that case, his accent might have been more apt. It does seem like the filmmakers were going for a slight comical tone to the character (and the entire film), but this aspect didn’t work so well.

    On to the second problem. I kept thinking that Marta would turn out to be a villain. Because I couldn’t accept her kindness at face value, that took away from the enjoyment of her character and the movie. Again, I don’t think the movie is to blame for this, although maybe something could have been done to show that she was a genuinely kind person.

  49. A couple of weeks ago, I was up late and I almost never do this, but I flipped on the TV just to see what was on. Something to keep me company while I worked on something.

    I don’t have cable, so I’m getting my TV via over-the-air digital, which is an interesting assortment of channels. One of the local stations was playing a late-night movie (I didn’t know they still did this; it was getting close to 4:00, I think), something I’d never heard of: That Touch of Mink with Cary Grant and Doris Day.

    It wasn’t great, but it did hold my attention. I looked up a synopsis and learned that there’s a short scene with Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris (Cary Grant brings Doris Day to a Yankees game on the night of their first date, and they sit in the dugout to watch the game).

    Nothing in my Netflix queue was burning to be seen, so I moved this one to the top and watched it last night. The rare evening when I don’t have stuff nagging at me, and I can just eat tortilla chips with fresh salsa and watch a movie from the Fifties.

    This is not a review, which I’ll write later. Not a brilliant movie, but fun. Clever, actually. I laughed aloud more than a few times, which surprised me. Also, lots of veiled sex talk and blatant sex references. I mean, the plot sort of centers around one character wanting just a sexual relationship and the other wanting marriage.

    I’m glad I watched it. Worth a look if you happen to see it airing somewhere.

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