Single paragraphs on flicks flicked during the second quarter of 2014


In theaters:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): As visually arresting as anything Wes Anderson has done, though I found the story less riveting. In part, I think, because the the nature of its violence threw me out of the story. It was sudden and horrible, and vague and distant. Which may be like real life, but I never had a sense of what was what. No doubt I will like it better should I watch it again with adjusted expectations.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014): Not to the level of excellence at the reboot, but still a top-half Muppet movie. I laughed quite often and quite loudly even if ultimately it wasn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked. Nice that Sam finally got a starring role. Far overdue. Nice to see old 70s Muppet acts come back, even if some of my favorite minor characters barely made appearances. Bummer to learn about Jerry Nelson's passing from closing credits, though. . . .

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): I love the first movie and I hoped for the best here. I was not disappointed. I don't know much about this Dean DeBlois guy, but I'll be trying to remember his name going forward. One thing I love about this movie is it didn't just pick up where the last left off. The kids are twenty now and the town has changed and they have changed---their relationships have changed---nothing's the same as we left it. Take the development between hero Hiccup and father Stoick---it's not as we last saw it, but the script doesn't pander to us or explain every new nuance. It doesn't need to because the nuances are there to be seen. (Though maybe they were covered in the tv show?) I hope in 3 we see more change. I would love to see Hiccup and Astrid married and so forth. I'll bet I would end up crying even more than I did in this one. By the way, fun fact, Cate Blanchett didn't do her own singing.

At home:

Babe: Pig in the City (1998): I haven't seen this movie since the first time I saw it. That time, I thought it was better than Babe. I may have been right. This is a beautiful movie both as written and as executed. Visually, it reminds me much of the late lamented Pushing Daisies. (and Nazi horror films). As for the writing, the use of the Greek (mouse) chorus is not as impressive as the first movie, but otherwise, this is in no way inferior to Babe. Astonishing, really, that out of such piling horrors so much joy and humanity can be found. Catharsis is a marvelous thing. In other words, though the visuals are clearly aging, they will remain timeless. (We miss you, Rhythm and Hues.) This must be one of the greatest duologies of all time.

Heathers (1988): I love how artificial this movie is. And while it could never be made today, I'm glad it exists. I laughed a lot and was appropriately horrified by the real life that followed.

Damsels in Distress (2011): Can't remember the last time I laughed so much during a movie. I loved it. This is the kind of movie I want to write: intricate dialogue delivered without affect, and bad tap dancing. Heaven.

Super 8 (2011): First, since most of what I know about JJ Abrams can be summed up in the phrase "lens flare" let me say that even so, at time I felt like I was watching a JJ Abrams parody. So many lens flare. It was absurd. Story? Adequate. Monster? Eh. But what makes this movie worth watching anyway is the actors, especially Elle Fanning. Those Fanning girls can really act. Her sister seems to have reached adulthood relatively mentally healthy and I hope the same fate awaits Elle because I want to keep watching her emote on screen. She's the real thing. And the other young actors are pretty good as well. The plot and adult characters are a half-baked macguffin. The kids are what matter. And they come through.

Moneyball (2011): This stupid bootleg copy is all screwed up. I probably spent thirty minutes trying to skip twenty minutes. Upsetting. Every moment in this movie's worth watching. It's great stuff. Guess I just need to get my own copy. In other news, could this be the year Billy wins the last game of the season? It's looking like a strong maybe.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004): Little Lord Steed was anxious to share this movie with his parents, having seen it at his grandparents'. I haven't seen this since it first hit dvd so I had forgotten most of the gags, and was thus able to enjoy it as he hoped I would. It's not one of the All Time Greats or anything, but it's fun and manages to find a movie-length story which so many cartoons never pull off.

The Last Unicorn (1982): I haven't seen this movie for about 27 years. Certain images from it have stuck in my mind after all this time, but little else. I can see why now. There's little else to recommend it. With the exception of Alan Arkin, the rest of the cast never gets it together. Most of the jokes probably weren't good in 1982 and are bad now. The animation is both static and herkyjerky at the same time. The songs kill forward momentum (and the one sung by the unicorn is bad in a Miss Piggy way without Miss Piggy's ironic intentionality). Almost every scene takes unjustifiably long to fruit. Even the moments I remembered (the red bull pressing forward, the unicorns disappearing into the sea) have less weight than they seemed to have when I was a child. I'm utterly mystified how it's still finding new audience.

Eraserhead (1977): This is one of the finest works of surrealism I've ever seen. It's all about the taboo fears connected to love, marriage, and parenthood, but it only deals with them in images. It never says outright what it means. So all the spermatozoa and vaginas (which things traveling both in and out, sex and birth) are there to be missed if you're so inclined. Really, I can't think of a horror film that deals as well with the hidden terrors of parenthood. I'm still a bit mystified about the title and I'm still surprised the film ended in redemption, but now that I've finally seen it, I'm off to the internet to see what else has been said about the movie. For me, I noticed distinct connections to silent comedy (the early shots felt like humorous yet funniless takes on the Little Tramp), early Corman films---and a bunch of other stuff. I should have been taking notes. If I had intended to write more than one paragraph, I would have paused it about ninety seconds in and grabbed a pen and pad. Lots of stuff here. Lots of stuff.

Frankenweenie (2012): Even though I'd heard good things about this movie, it was Tim Burton. Disappointment is par. So I'm delighted to say this movie is crazy enjoyable and fun and even a bit scary. Scary enough it's good my older two weren't home. My only real complaint is there's some thematic confusion---is it pro-science or anti-science? The film is utterly confused on this point. But ultimately it's all about heart or something anyway so whatever.


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977, 1997): Due to DVD difficulties, they switched from the new to the old halfway through (not to my complaint though I did have to see Greedo shoot first before teh switch was made). This time my thoughts were filled with how nearly the movie came to being a B-movie disaster. It's success is more than slightly amazing in that light. Still. I know I love it.

V for Vendetta (2005): Refreshing to watch a blockbuster-intended superhero film that is really only interested in playing games with symbolism. Sure, it can be a bit heavyhanded, but the editing and acting keep it fresh and interesting. Rewards multiple viewings.

Rushmore (1998): I've long noticed the Peanuts connection, but I think this was the first time I noticed the Christmas special's "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" playing in the barbershop at the moment of reconciliation. Love.

Idiocracy (2006): Question---are we being encouraged to laugh at dumb people and then fight against them . . . or to realize we are them?

Duck Soup (1933): I didn't feel this way when I first watched it, but I'm now in the camp that calls Duck Soup the greatest of the Marx Bros movies. It's more chaotic and less sensible, but it's a satire of war. It's Beckett, it's Vonnegut, it's madness. It's war. Plus, it's hilarious. Even nonsense adds up eventually. If the final picture's a mess, that doesn't make it any less a picture. It might make it more of one.

Casablanca (1942): Heroism. I can't remember if I've ever had a class clap at the end of a film before. What a movie.

Spirited Away (2001): Miyazaki has a gift. He represents children such that those of us who have forgotten can remember. This film may be fantastic, but it is also closely observed realism. That is, methinks, part of its magic.

The Iron Giant (1999): I can't remember crying in class before. Nor seeing so many red-eyed kids. And the applause was even better than for Casablanca. And afterwards they had so many smart observations. If you're doing a writing-about-film unit, consider throwing this on your syllabus.

Jurassic Park (1993): Although the class made snide comments all the way through (some of which we're smartly analytical, eg noting that Grant's seatbelt problems were caused by nothing but females yet life found a way), they still jumped at appropriate points and clapped at the credits. They did not, however, by the T. Rex's final appearance. Fascinating.

Citizen Kane (1941): Sure, sure, sure. But I just don't like it enough to watch it enough times to really appreciate that it's THAT great.

The Muppet Movie (1979) and Monsters, Inc. (2001): While babysitting at a Relief Society function, I was in the movie room for the first half of the former and the second half of the latter. And I was singing Rowlf's number, that I had left just before, the entire interim. Plus, Frank Oz stars in both movies so they're practically the same anyway. And I love them both.

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