Feature films 2015: second quarter


In theaters:

Romeo Is Bleeding (2015): This is a powerful film about kids in Richmond applying the Bard to themselves through the trauma that is everyday life in Richmond. We watched the world premiere of this doc in the theater where their play was originally produced and many of the people filmed and their families were present. And they felt the film even more than we did. They laughed harder and they sobbed---I've rarely heard sobs like these from adults. And sure, that enhanced the experience, but this film is moving and important and you shouldn't miss it. Look for screenings near you. (One postscript: watching the film and seeing how people react to poet Donté Clark, I could see his ability to communicate through words was real and community-changing. And I felt him as a fellow traveler. But hearing him wing responses live in the Q&A made me feel what the people around him already knew. He's an incredible talent. And if the culture's just different enough from mine that I can't feel it, that's on me to learn that culture. I mean---haven't I had to do that with Shakespeare?)

Tomorrowland (2015): I wanted to love this movie. I appreciate its optimistic goals and alleged worldbuilding and, come on, its Brad Bird. Not every movie has a Brad Bird. So I'm sad to say that even with George Clooney and Hugh Laurie and this crazy awesome little British girl, not with standing some cool visuals and futurey conceptions etc etc, ultimately the film does not quite work. Largely because it spends a lot of time undercutting its themes. For instance, we have to have big fights and kill innocent people and blow things up to make a happy future. And I can't remember the last time I was so browbeaten with product placement. Sigh. Still. I'm glad I voted with my dollars and by no means do I feel my day was wasted. I just wish I'd been given more. And not in a consumer way. In a philosophical way.

Inside Out (2015): How could was it? I was spontaneously weeping an hour after we left the theater. I may still spontaneously weep yet. (UPDATE: nine days later, still weepy.) We're going to buy and rewatch it every year to make it part of our family's vocabulary. You owe it to yourself. It's a movie made up of perfect details, that finds the epic in the small, and the tiny in the large.

Jurassic World (2015): Look: It's not a great movie. It has it's flaws. But all I really felt I was owed was a lot of fun and not to be talked down to. I got both those. The movie was utterly and wonderfully satisfactory. Do I need to spend all summer rewatching it? No. Would I go with someone if they asked? You bet. I could talk at length about details and choices, but the rest of the internet is taking care of that. I'm satisfied. That is enough. (Although, once again, the product placement was eye-gouging at times.)

At home:

Edge of Tomorrow (2014): When Lady Steed and I saw the trailer for this movie in theaters, it was probably one of the best trailers I've ever seen, from an advertising perspective. It sold the movie absolutely, gave nothing important away, and drove the title into our minds where we've never forgotten it: LIVE. DIE. REPEAT. Only . . . then it displayed the real title, Edge of Tomorrow---utterly forgettable and generic. I have a feeling it was a title the studio had owned for years and just slapped it on this film because it sounded cool. Generically cool, but cool. Marketing knew better, but couldn't shake it. Ah well. As for the movie? It's awesome. Don't dismiss it as Groundhog Day with guns and aliens, because it's more than that. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's "better" than Groundhog Day, but I would also say it's a dumb argument. They're both very good and they are utterly different save in one central conceit. One fascinating thing about this film is how it plays with sound design and score. When we first see battle with the aliens, it's that uberdramatic KwAHHHng! stuff with sweeping orchestration and so forth, telling us how to feel. Then he dies. And the music switches subtly to comedy and the over-the-top SFX go away. And as the move delves further away from "reality" the music becomes more of a partner in storytelling rather than a bully. Anyway, good movie. I would watch again with you right now were you here.

The Boxtrolls (2014): I'm not sure we're watched a movie before that had my five-year-old drawing me pictures of the characters before bedtime before. And rightly so. I'm not sure if this is the "best" Laika movie to date, but it's probably the one I enjoyed the most and the one I'm most looking forward to enjoying again. I thought I was in for a Jungle Book. It was more.

Freetown (2015): I expected to be more thrilled than moved. In fact, I was more moved than thrilled.

Chef (2014): The cast is incredible and a joy to watch. The food is incredible and a joy to watch. Who cares if the frame's a bit pedestrian? Who cares? Have you seen this cast? Have you seen this food?

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990): I've been aware of this movie for 25 years but I've never really been interested in seeing it. I can't remember why. But I was just reading about it in The Best Film You've Never Seen which tells me it was a flop. But I remember hearing about it more than the Tom Hanks hits mentioned (I don't remember hearing about Punchline as a kid at all)---certainly, other than Big, this was the film my friends talked about. But I was never sold until now. I'm so sad I waited so long. I loved the heightened reality and sense of play and seriousness within madness. And Meg Ryan playing three roles (which I didn't know before) is, as the book says, her Peter Sellers (or, as I would have it, her Alec Guinness role). I could dedicate a whole post to this movie, but I don't want to. So just one more observation, about the islanders. Although arguable racist, they sidestep the issue in an interesting way by their ancestry and by their being steep in Hollywood faux-island culture (eg, King Kong). I don't know what Polynesians think, and the islanders weren't my favorite part of the film, but if anybody cares what whitey thinks, I would give it a pass. Anyway. The film was great. Like a Coens comedy cranked up one more notch.

Wadjda (2012): For a look into another portion of the modern world, this film is invaluable. To see the life of a young Saudi girl and her school and her mother is pretty great. To see how the fundamentalist fear of sexuality leads to hypersexuality is insightful (note: not the point of this movie, but there whether it's meant to loom or not). But I'm pretty sure that some of the things I did not understand weren't cultural. For instance, the occasionally confusing chronology. Still though. Even when turns in the plot were obvious cliches, they worked. This is a charming film. Though I have a hard time imagining my kids sit through it. Definitely not paced rat-a-tat-tat.

Groundhog Day (1993): I haven't seen this movie in a long, long time. I'm so happy it holds up. It's still a great movie. And Edge of Tomorrow did not suffer in the comparison. Which is impressive. Because this film is an acknowledged classic.

Under the Skin (2013): This is a strange, strange film. Short-film strange, blown up big. It's a bit like THX 1138 (scroll down) at moments and a lot like Eraserhead in the middle. It reminded me more and more of Cat People as it went along and the way the shots lingered forever like sitting in front of a painting makes me think of what I imagine 2001 is like. I've never seen a monster quite like this one. So human and so alien. So impossible to fathom. And so predatory. What to make of it? I don't know. Filming in Scotland with amateurs wearing astonishingly opaque accents helps us understand some things. That the accents get more transparent as the film goes on is telling. The fades are so patient as to be poems in themselves. So much to say. So little to conclude.

Jurassic Park (1993): Holds up. Always always always holds up.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011): A pretty good movie, but the real key to why the movie isn't all it could be is contrasting the development of the Matt Damon character to the Emily Blunt character. He is very well developed. She is not. She doesn't even get to share a childhood story of her own. And her fiance? That poor guy is a 100% disposable nonhuman entity. Sigh. It was ambitious and new! If only the Pixar Braintrust had had a chance to give some feedback just before production started....

Godzilla (2014): Yeah, I suppose it deserved the hype. It was certainly awesome (not in the "good" sense but in the "awesome" sense). It was visually impressive and it's monsters were pretty terrifying (that spider-ape female thing!). The characters were a bit cliched but generic in a way that made them a bit more relatable. And not everything worked out the most obvious way (the Only Man Alive Who Can Help doesn't get to help . . . twice!). And the way the film dealt with the classic Godzilla themes of nuclear arrogance was way more timely and on-point than I had expected. Although it certainly was disaster porn, it wasn't ignorant of the millions of should-be-meaningful casualties. It's funny how weird things can throw you out of a movie (I can buy an absurdly tall monster, but he standing up in the Golden Gate? That's the deepest part of the Bay! And the Bridge is tall! And those currents! or: They're flying that warhead right over the City? Are you kidding me?) but whatever. Maybe I've lost my sense of wonder or something. In short, a dumb monster movie, but a really really good dumb monster movie.

Marwencol (2010): I learned of this from a This American Life episode but have only now finally got around to watching it. It was a pretty great movie. I think part of the reason is, as an arts-mag editor observes, Mark Hogancamp is utterly absented of irony. He means everything. That's pretty rare these days. And it can't be faked.

American Movie (1999): I remember reading about this film in Newsweek while in a doctor's waiting room. I've never forgotten about it, and always intended to someday watch it. Now I have. And although Milwaukee is pretty different from Montpelier, I think some of the pathos I felt came from the similarities that do exist. Anyway, it's about a dirt-low indie filmmaker trying to follow his muse, and the people who surround him. It's a mix of funny and horrifying and heartbreaking and hopeful.

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011): I usually watch foreign-language animation dubbed (I have my reasons, haters), but never have I been so sure that the story was taking a beating because of the translation. Still, I enjoyed the film and it earned a tear.


Looking for Richard (1996): Showing this alongside teaching Richard III is kind of great. It tells the story well while modeling actors and scholars struggling with the text's complexity. It's a fun watch. And I love the line by (I think it was) Barbara Everett, molaq, "Irony is just hypocrisy with style." What a great line. But is it true???

V for Vendetta (2005): Besides being a crowdpleaser with an easy-to-grasp theme, V holds up very well to repeat viewings. They really layered it in here, some obvious, some subtle, always something new to find. A great little flick to introduce film analysis.

THX 1138 (1971): A horrific future created mostly by the color white and sound design. And, for unfathomable reasons, now fiddled with by its creator with CGA add-ons that don't add on.

Casablanca (1942): Perfect films don't grow old. They grow richer.

Psycho (1960): Honestly? I don't think I'll ever tire of it. Though I think Ebert is right regarding cutting down the psychologist's scene. But I don't think he would have been right in 1960. Hitchcock himself told the actor he'd saved the movie. It was a different time. I can respect that.

The Iron Giant (1999): I think I've passed peak-cry for The Iron Giant, but I still certainly cry.

Spirited Away (2001): I agree with Roger Ebert that this is a film made with generosity and love.

Bambi (1942): Beautiful movie with one of my alltime favorite soundtracks. But it's such a weird movie. See 1 2 3 4 5.

Dazed and Confused (1993): A friend's every-year-last-day-of-school movie. And I can see why. But I just have a hard time relating to kids want to get drunk/stoned/laid. Parts of the Universal Human Experience ring true, but not enough. On the other hand, it's a picaresque and my understanding is it gets better each time as you pick up more details. That I can believe.

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