First batch of 2015 feature films seen


In theaters:

Annie (2014): Although the 1982 film is a big part of my childhood, I haven't seen it in over twenty years. The only moment of oh-yeah recognition I felt here was at the name "Pepper." Everything else was either remembered or changed beyond recognition. Bits of the movie work well (and I'll admit the emotional climax got me), but overall it's too flawed to recommend. The biggest issue is character development which the writers and director seems to think means characters doing things out of their established character. Which I suppose on some simplistic level is sort of true, but no. Jamie Foxx played two or three characters well. The only major character who survived the whiplash was Annie---they still happened, but Ms Wallis is so grounded you might miss it. The humor usually falling flat's another major issue. And the movie's confusion over whether it's a straight-up musical or an ironic musical's a third. Anyway. Guess I need to go back in time thirty years and see how Carol Burnett holds up.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014): What a glorious mess this movie is. Crammed so full of stuff that the story is nearly strangled. In their desperation to connect the Hobbit movies to the Lord of the Rings movies, Wingnut sacrificed making the best possible Hobbit movie. I hope someone with sense convinces them to release a Special Edition Hobbit that's a single movie under four hours in length. Wouldn't that be nice? Anyway, we caught it on its last Bay Area screen and now we are done with them. I didn't even find this one as interesting to look at as the last two, which is all I was expecting. So while I was entertained, I mostly learned that the more armor you have, the more likely you are to die. (Incidentally, Lady Steed has the compelling theory that the manner in which orcs are grown is why they break down and die more easily. That does solve a number of problems.)

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015): It was funny. And filled with surreal ridiculousness. Didn't really congeal as a movie, but I laughed.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014): First, if you haven't seen the trailer already, DON'T. It doesn't give away some of everything, but it gives away too much of a little. Not cool, trailer-makers. Second, although not as HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS as the marketing claims, it was very funny; I laughed more at this than any in-theater film in a while. Note to the squeamish: Lady Steed thought it contained a bit too much squirting blood. Which is to say it contained any squirting blood.

At home:

Her (2013): Nostalgic cinematography and an utterly believable near future and a plot unlike any other I've seen. I never knew what was coming, but not because of any gotcha gimmicks. And the acting! Phoenix is amazing. Adams is amazing. And . . . I just can't get over how believable the bulk of it all was. What a great movie. Mundane science fiction at its best.

Moneyball (2011): Such a good movie. And, working as I currently am on a screenplay, so exquisitely constructed. And the acting. And the direction. What a great movie. And it captures so much so true about baseball. Gah.

The Gold Rush (1925): I'm not sure about that "1925." We watched the Criterion version, first their 2007ish recreation of the lost 1925 version, then Chaplin's own reworked 1941 version---what, I suppose, should be called the authoritative version. (Because of introductions, I say the beginnings of both, the ending of one, the middle of neither. I'm counting it anyway.) But "1925" is as a good a year as any. The real point is that the movie is great. The kids? Rolling. I do think 1941's narration changes the purity of the slapstick on some way. As Lady Steed put it, the fight over the gun seems more serious when narrated, more cartoony when silent. Regardless! Classic stuff.

Jaws (1975): The beach parts were scary, but once they're on the boat, it's an action movie---not a horror movie. I didn't know! My memory of Jaws is of 2 or 3 (the one at an aquarium) and it being scary. I'm totally okay with my kids watching this film. Exciting stuff. I get why it's beloved. [UPDATE: The 5yrold was very sad I returned this to the library without his seeing it and asked and asked and asked and finally I got it again so he could watch it. We skipped the first scene (and I was in and out) but he was glued and loved it. His older brothers kept getting hooked as well---then running away.]

The One I Love (2014): Wow. I was expecting a romcom structured like a horror movie and instead I got one of the finest bits of Twilight-Zoney science fiction I can remember seeing it. I loved this movie. I want to watch it again. Then maybe again. Then maybe again.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014): Before I get into what I thought of the film, let me say what I thought of renting from Amazon Instant: I HATED IT. It hiccupped constantly which would be upsetting in the shakycammest of speedcutty films, but this was mostly one fluid long shot, so it was pretty much the worst thing ever. I want my five dollars back. As for the film, I think I liked it, but the experience of watching it on Amazon Instant got in the way. The acting is incredible. The story is fascinating. The look backstage was enjoyable. The characters are clearly drawn without thick crayon lines. The writing seemed pretty great. The editing was amazing. I'm not sure how they did it---the intricacy of planning goes way beyond the cameras-into-the-back Hitchcock used in Rope, and I would love to know more about it. In short, I think I really liked this movie, but it's hard to be sure. Thanks a lot, Amazon. Who I'm freaking advertizing all over this post..... [:::::UPDATE::::: SIX DAYS LATER WITHOUT ANY REQUEST OR INPUT FROM ME, AMAZON REFUNDED MY MONEY. Thanks a lot, Amazon!]

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967): This time, the California gold rush. This movie is one of the silly Disney liveactioners of the '60s, and every bit as much fun as that implies. I think my kids found it slowgoing at times, but at other times they were pounding walls with laughter. Me, I find the whole thing charming and clever. And I miss the bits of absurdity that films of that time felt free to incorporate. Realism has taken too strong a hold on comedy.

21 Jump Street (2012): So . . . that wasn't worth watching. I mean---it was what I expected, but it wasn't what many many many people with taste promised me. I laughed but I could've spent those 110 minutes better engaged. Ah well.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): It's been a looooong time since I've seen this movie---probably over twenty years---but it's still familiar and, to my surprise, I really liked it. I can appreciate the tunnel scene better now (and the skills of the chicken lopper). And Gene Wilder's performance---add it to the short list of roles I admire in such a way that I'm jealous I didn't get to do it myself. So satisfying! So glad we made our kids watch this one first.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005): So this film has a handful of moments, but overall it's just . . . artificial. Starting with the plastic animation and routing over and over again through the bizarre mistake that is Willy Wonka, it just rings false. Sure, it's wonderfully manufactured nonsense, but sometimes a sequence of careful perfection ends in a pile of suck. Even the kids could tell that was the case. They preferred the handmade honesty of the 1971 version, even though this one had a pink boat rowed by Oompa-Loompas and the original song lyrics and squirrels shelling the nuts---even though this one, on the surface, was closer to the book in other words. Of course, it's still not as awful or unwatchable as Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. So it has that going for it.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013): I need to see this again so I can watch it without thinking about how it compares to the story (with which I am intimately familiar), but I think it was a very good movie. Certainly it had looked good and was well acted. Lady Steed really liked it and she's not familiar with the Thurber (and yet I married her). Ben Stiller's work is best when it has a serious undertone and is not just overthetop grossout silly. I need to watch it again, but I think it was good. Quite likely very good. And full of visual beauties. It was worth whatever they spent.

Finding Vivian Maier (2013): Fascinating movie. At times, I was too aware that the filmmaker's a bit of a hustler with a lot of money to make off this lost artist, but he addresses that and ultimately I forgive him because revealing Vivian Maier to the world is important and her work is beautiful and he's the one who revealed it. The film is structured such that it moves from mystery to her art to her story to her inner darkness to the redemption of art. This was a terrific movie and now I want to sit in a comfortable chair and move slowly through a 500-page volume of her self-portraits.***

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): Watching this movie makes my screenwriting efforts feel so amature. What a great, great movie. I know Kohl disowns me when I say it, but it's my favorite Wes Anderson.


Duck Soup (1933): Always one more joke to pick out of the mess. And boy oh boy but is it a glorious mess!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007): I don't know if it's precisely fair to say I "watched" this movie. It was on and I was in the room most of the time, but I was talking to another adult and wrestling with three crazy kids at the time. So I "saw" a goodly amount of it and "heard" a similar amount (though not always the same parts). Based on that, I think it's true that Imelda Staunton's Umbridge was quite good and that it's the best Harry Potter movie I've ever seen. (For those keeping track, in Theric's opinion, 1 is a travesty against humanity; 3 and 4 are dull and not very good but watchable.)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): I really really really really really really really wish this movie had done beaucoup box office and changed the boldness of studio executives forever. #ha #haha #hahaha

Frank (2014): Not sold by the ending, but the film still had a certain something that compels a day later. Maybe it's the music (a cross between the Magnetic Fields and King Missile). Maybe it's Michael Fassbender's compelling voice. Maybe it's that head. I don't know. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way, but I wouldn't attempt to dissuade you either. I'm not sure where I stand on this one.

Romeo and Juliet (1968): Brightest moment was my TA nearly crying. Warms my heart to know that souls still live.

The Princess Bride (1987): Even the parts that don't seem to work are perfect. Such a well constructed comedy.

Previous films watched



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