Tag Archives: cinema saturday

Cinema Saturday, 7/31/21

First, a programming note: I’m going to be doing another month-long movie watch next month — 80s in August! I’ll be picking three genre films from each year of the decade, a fantasy film, a sci-fi film, and a horror film. I’m limiting my choices to the streaming services I currently have access to (Hulu, Netflix, the library, and the free ones) and will skew toward movies I haven’t seen or movies I haven’t seen in a long while. Hopefully a fun way to cruise through August.

Life of Crime

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: R

Director: Daniel Schechter

Writers: Daniel Schechter, Elmore Leonard

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Yasiin Bey, Isla Fisher, John Hawkes

Initial: Oh, hey! A movie based on an Elmore Leonard book!

Production Notes: Based on the novel The Switch. Several characters from that novel show up again in Leonard’s Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino made into Jackie Brown (1997).

What Did I Think:
Yes, this movie has Elmore Leonard fingerprints all over it. Quirky, ambiguous bad guys? Check. Scheme that goes sideways without the quirky, ambiguous bad guys being utter idiots? Check. Set in the 70s? Well, that’s just bonus points I guess. Not as smart or funny as a film like Logan Lucky (2017), but enjoyable, if you like crime dramedies. And it occurred to me that I like Jennifer Aniston. She plays a great straight man here, handling her circumstances with a good deal of poise.


Enola Holmes

Year: 2020
Runtime: 2h 3m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Harry Bradbeer

Writers: Jack Thorne, Nancy Springer

Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin

Initial: I put off watching Enola Holmes for quite a while because, as much as I like the thought of extended Holmes works, they so rarely turn out well.

What Did I Think:
Thirteen year-old me would have loved this movie. Forty-six year-old me finds it very…likeable. It’s well-made, a bit ridiculous, but almost tries too hard. You kind of have to be on board for the meta, fourth wall-breaking that is going to occur because what you see in that trailer is what you’re going to get. Millie Bobby Brown is charismatic and Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as her mother. I would also be in favor of some spin-off Henry Cavill Sherlock Holmes.

Bonus! YouTuber Jill Bearup tested stabbing a corset!

Cinema…Sunday! 7/25/21

Btw, this trailer is one of my favorite bits of visual and sound editing.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Year: 2018
Runtime: 2h 14m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher

Writers: Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan

Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

“Paul is out. I fired him.”

“On what pretext?”

“Villainy.”

Initial: Too bad this wasn’t on my streaming platform of choice back when I watched Rocketman.

Production Notes: Speaking of Rocketman (and more comparisons are going to be made), Dexter Fletcher went on to direct that film after he had stepped in to finish Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired from the project.

What Did I Think:
I like Queen. Obviously, it helps when watching a musician biopic to like the musician’s music. Rami Malek plays the hell out his role as Freddie Mercury (as do Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joe Mazzello as the rest of the band). I enjoyed the scenes of the band collaborating. I don’t know how faithful they are to real life, but I like the concept of art coming out of not just agreement, but criticism.

For example, in one scene (summed up):
Band: *argues about writing a (gasp) disco song*
John Deacon: *starts playing the bass line for “Another One Bites the Dust” *
Band: “Oh. Well, if that’s what you mean…”

All biopics have to adapt real life to narrative. Sadly, Bohemian Rhapsody does it in a bland way. Here comes the big comparison: Rocketman sidesteps fidelity by cheerfully waving goodbye to the mundane and substituting the heightened reality of a musical. This works very well for interpreting Elton John. It allows for narrative somersaults to make everything Work Out in the End. A musical probably wouldn’t have worked for Freddie Mercury, but there had to be an alternative for the pretty straight (in more ways than one) storytelling of Bohemian Rhapsody. What would have worked for Queen? 80s rock opera, probably, though that would have been difficult to pull off and not be cheesy.

As I said though, I like Queen. This movie wasn’t great, but its 2 hours, 14 minute runtime wasn’t a hardship either. Yes, I watch through to the end of the credits.

Bonus:

Cinema Saturday, 7/10/21

I Kill Giants

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1h 46m
Rated: Not Rated

Director: Anders Walter

Writers: Joe Kelly, Ken Niimura

Stars: Madison Wolfe, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Zoe Saldana

Initial: From my random draw TBW list.

Production Notes: Set in the US, but filmed in Belgium and Ireland

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Going in, I saw that this movie can go one of two ways: giants are real or giants are a metaphor. So, a big part of this film’s success relies on how it executes these possibilities. Unfortunately, there is never any true ambiguity between the real and the magical. It’s a little frustrating that the magical realism doesn’t quite seep into reality because the effects are nicely done. But I do appreciate that I Kill Giants doesn’t do any cheesy cheating.

On the plus side, there is some mystery to what is behind our giant-killer’s predicament. The end reveal, while more of a wrinkle than a twist, does reframe many earlier events and that is deftly done. It’s a lovely film and sad. You might want a Kleenex on hand.


Bill & Ted Face the Music

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 31m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Dean Parisot

Writers: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine

Initial: Hey, look! Another movie everyone else watched a year ago!

Production Notes: There’s a nearly 30 year gap between Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991, which I saw in the theater with my sister) and this sequel.

What Did I Think:
Bill & Ted Face the Music has a few basic things going for it for me. First, I have a soft spot for naive, enthusiastic optimism. A song can unite the world or save reality? With how wearing the real world is, I’m there for that sort of nonsense. Second, I’m in favor of the subversion of nostalgia projects: “You know those characters that you identified with when you were young? Yeah, they’re old now too…” (See also Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).) And third, I just sort of like the goofy, not-quite-parody-of-Doctor-Who* that is the Bill & Ted franchise. It’s an amalgamation of things that don’t quite work, but still exceed the sum of their parts. And, when I moved to Arizona, I was so stoked that there was a Circle K on the corner.

Face the Music is maybe not as clever, maybe not at well-put-together as the first movie, but it’s fun. Thea and Billie (the daughters) tread much of the same ground as the first two movies in the franchise, while Bill and Ted end up meeting future versions of themselves, which is probably the best shtick of movie. This was 90 minutes that flew by.

* George Carlin (Rufus in the earlier movies) would have made a great Doctor. Plus, a phone booth time-travel device that isn’t bigger on the inside is so much funnier.

Cinema Saturday, 7/3

The Haunting in Connecticut

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Peter Cornwell

Writers: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe

Stars: Virginia Madsen, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas

Initial: Why was this movie even on my random TBW list? Was it Virginia Madsen? Was it the séances? It was probably the séances.

Production Notes: The true story on which The Haunting in Connecticut is “based” is connected to Ed and Lorraine Warren. One imagines that if this movie had been made 4–5 years later it would be part of The Conjuring-verse.

What Did I Think:
Some movies are a slog to get through. I watched this one over the course of three dinners, about a half hour at a time. If you’ve never seen a horror movie, The Haunting in Connecticut might be clever and effective. But probably still slightly confusing because some of the choices characters make no kind of sense. Do you really decide to move into a house with an entire half of the basement behind a stuck door? Does any kid really decide to hide in the rusty dumbwaiter? Plus, there is just too much: necromancers and spiritualists, hallucination inducing medical treatments and a semi-estranged alcoholic father who decides that breaking every light bulb in the house is appropriate punishment for leaving the lights on. Verily, I have gained more appreciation for the focus and efficiency of Poltergeist (1982).


Aliens

Year: 1986
Runtime: 2h17min
Rated: R

Director: James Cameron

Writers: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

Initial: Sometimes you just have to rewatch a favorite.

Production Notes: It’s only been nine months since I last watched this movie. I had thought that I’d mentioned it at the time, but it was in the middle of my September horror movie A to Z.

What Did I Think:
James Cameron does two things well in Aliens.

One, he presents a really good sequel. He starts off with enough nods to Ridley Scott’s original before pivoting the whole story into a different genre. This takes time and Cameron takes the time.

Second, he’s good at information management. In action movies, it’s actually really important to know where characters are going and why they are going there. The audience should have some expectation of what’s supposed to be happening so that when things go wrong, we understand the gravity of the situation. The characters in Aliens spend a lot of time looking at maps and explaining to each other what’s going on. Cameron and his co-writers make those explanations work because the characters are either part of a command structure where information is passed down the chain or the characters are trouble-shooting. “Can we do this thing?” “No, we’ll become alien fodder.” “What about this?” “Sure, be we’ll have to go there.” These exchanges take time too, but the movie never lags.

I haven’t seen The Abyss or True Lies in a while, but this might be my favorite James Cameron movie.

Cinema Saturday, 6/26/21

Judy & Punch

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 45m
Rated: Not Rated

Director: Mirrah Foulkes

Writers: Mirrah Foulkes, Tom Punch, Lucy Punch, Eddy Moretti

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Daisy Axon

Initial: Saw promotional materials on Hulu and said, “Well, that looks like a movie for me!”

What Did I Think: (spoilers possible below)
Enjoyment of this movie is fairly dependent on some knowledge of traditional Punch and Judy shows. Being American, I was only vaguely familiar: it’s a puppet show, usually done with marionettes; Punch carries a stick and (as the Wikipedia page puts it) other characters are “felled by Punch’s slapstick.” But that wasn’t enough to keep me from being felled by a few WTF moments due to my not being familiar enough. I understood going in (though I hadn’t watched the trailer) that there was going to be a fantastical aspect to the setting and time period. I suspected that there was a meta aspect to the story. I just wasn’t quite prepared for a more or less live-action Punch and Judy show.

Like the also inverse-named Gretel & Hansel (2020), Judy & Punch is more about the female half of this pairing. Judy is co-artist, wife to the “genius” Punch, and over-worked mother. The final straw to her liberation is pretty extreme. She delivers retribution to her husband by the end of the tale, though I wish it would have been a little more grounded. Earlier, Judy is shown to be a talented magician (in the stage magic sense) and I wish those theatrics would have been more solidly used. It’s a beautiful film and well-cast, but slightly misses the mark for me.

Cinema Sat…er…Sunday, 6/20/21

Saint Maud

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 24m
Rated: R

Director: Rose Glass

Writer: Rose Glass

Stars: Morfydd Clark, Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jennifer Ehle

Initial: Saint Maud has been recommended to me by a few people. I’m expecting something fairly mind-bendy.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Saint Maud was more straight-forward than I expected, probably because I put Maud/Katie into the category of unreliable narrator pretty early on in the film. That said, it’s a well-made film. This is the feature debut for writer/director Rose Glass and her cinematographer Ben Fordesman. Maud’s world is alternately dream-like/nightmare-ish and grungily real. The movie hangs on the performance of Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle, and both actresses nail their characters with nuanced performances. I’m really interested Rose Glass’s future projects.


Extraction

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 56m
Rated: R

Director: Sam Hargrave

Writers: Ande Parks, Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Fernando León González

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda

Initial: So I added a bunch of movies from different to-watch lists and randomly picked. First pick: Extraction.

Production Note: This movie was sort of a big deal when it came out last year, becoming a kind of proof-of-concept for a “big” film opening on a streaming service (not that it had much choice).

What Did I Think:
After Eric watched this movie, on my recommendation, he described it thusly: “It’s like a reverse trolley problem. There’s one person on the main track, but this plot switches rails to kill sixty people on the other track.” He’s not wrong…

This movie felt very retro to me, very 80s actions movie. There’s lots of violence. The bad guys are Evil. The good guy is honorable. There’s pathos! There’s humor! There’s an extraction team that doesn’t seem to be a very good extraction team… And there’s also an 10 minute “no-cut” action sequence. I am not a fan of the super rapid, choppy cutting that happens in many 2000s action films (the Transformer films stand out to me as being fairly egregious), but I’m on the fence about long, no-cut POV scenes too. On one hand, the lack of cut builds tension. On the other hand, it can fall into feeling like video game play. No doubt, stitching 36 scenes into one continuous sequence (which is what Hargrave does here) is a feat, I’m just not sure it completely serves the movie.


1BR

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: TV-MA

Director: David Marmor

Writer: David Marmor

Stars: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols

Initial: Random movie #2!

Production Note: The second feature debut of a writer/director in this post.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
First off, I’m tired of women getting tortured in horror films. It’s probably a trope that I just need to avoid. I’ve come to find it distasteful and lazy. Could the premise of 1BR work with a 20 year-old guy? Yeah, more or less.

Maybe you can fault me for this not being a good-faith argument, but Sarah (our protagonist) is doing fine at the beginning of this movie. She’s moved to Los Angeles on her own. Sure, she didn’t immediately break into costume design (she hasn’t been in LA long), but she has a job and she’s looking for an apartment. Other than lying about her cat, she doesn’t have any notable sins/vices that require cult-like reprogramming. Is the message of this movie that if you don’t have immediate success, you’re so broken you need intervention? Also, are apartment showings like that in LA? A dozen people milling around a one bedroom? It seemed bizarre to me. The bright spot is Nicole Brydon Bloom. She really does a fine job with the role.

A similar, better movie: The Invitation (2015).

Cinema Saturday, 6/12/21

Small Town Crime

Year: 2017
Runtime: R
Rated: 1h 31m

Directors: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Writers: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Stars: John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer

Initial: Generally a fan of John Hawkes. I wouldn’t mind seeing him in a few more movies. Also I’m delving into a bit of neo-noir.

Production Notes: Eshom and Ian Nelms also wrote and directed the Mel Gibson Santa Claus film, Fatman.

What Did I Think:
First off, this movie isn’t as funny as the trailer wants to make you think it is. It’s not grim-dark—there are moments of levity—but it’s not hilarious either. That’s a nit-pick with the trailer which I didn’t bother watching until I started writing this post.

In general, this film is fine. Mike, Hawke’s alcoholic former cop, is a flawed character and prone to doing short-sighted and ill-advised things. The plot unspools in a logical manner. Filmed in Utah, the movie has the feel of “small town” being one of the rural-ish areas of California, rather than, say, Small Town, Iowa. Indeed the Nelms brothers were inspired by Central Valley, California. The characters really are the highlight of film. The cast and writing give the characters a little something that is more memorable than the rest of the movie.


Nocturnal Animals

Year: 2016
Runtime: 1h 56m
Rated: R

Director: Tom Ford

Writers: Tom Ford, Austin Wright

Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Initial: A much-lauded neo-noir film that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while.

Production Notes: Being face-blind means not realizing that Amy Adams and Isla Fisher are different people…

What Did I Think:
I wanted to like this movie. It has things that I like: Jake Gyllenhaal, a writer character being meta, a West Texas setting (at least partially). But there’s something about Nocturnal Animals that leaves me a little cold. Maybe it was the obese naked cheerleaders at the beginning… Okay, I get that choice, sort of. It’s meant to present Adam’s character of Susan Marrow as that sort of upper class elite museum person that will present distasteful art in the name of being “challenging.” Unfortunately, it presents Tom Ford and this movie in that way too.

Nocturnal Animals is a revenge movie. Susan’s ex-husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal), sends her his manuscript—a novel about a man whose wife and daughter are raped and killed after a car-jacking. The character in the novel (also Gyllenhaal), feeling helpless and weak, is bullied onto a revenge path by a dying investigator. In the “real world” portion of the movie, Susan reads the novel and we are shown in flashbacks how she had wronged Edward during their marriage. Susan feels that perhaps she can restart her relationship with Edward, fleeing her unhappy life, but Edward has his revenge too. It’s a mostly people being awful to each other. No wonder I didn’t care for it.