Feature films 2015: third quarter


In theaters:

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): I've never seen the original trilogy and the trailers didn't really interest me. Not until I read an article in WIRED telling me the film used minimal CG was my interest peaked. And then the reviews. People loved it! Not just fanboys but actual adults. And George Miller makes good movies. I love the Babe movies (he wrote both, directed the second), after all. Anyway, we went. And it lived up to the hype. That night as we were reading articles and interviews in bed, Lady Steed instantly and emphatically agreed with the word masterpiece in one article's title. At any rate, it reminds me that action movies, as a genre, don't have to be disposable. Maybe it will lead to some smart risk-taking by the studios? One can hope.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): I'd picked up a free poster for this movie the night before at Mad Max. It's a cool poster and since it's a theatrical poster, it's mirror-image on the back. So you know I'm hanging it up in my classroom. In which case I ought to see it. So we did. I loved it. Twenty-four hours after viewing its weaknesses become more apparent, but it's still a smart, fun, honest movie. And the compositions! I kept thinking the phrase every-frame-a-painting. Plus the meta elements of the films Greg and Earl make, the stop motion. Basically the only real crime was it tapped into my current Great Pet Peeve which was having the bell ring on a high school class with neither the teacher nor the students apparently having any idea class was about over. Come on. That never happens.

The Third Man (1949): The theater had the volume up too loud so the dialogue (especially accents and Joseph Cotten) was hard to follow. But the cinematography was beautiful. And wow but does postwar Vienna here have its own pathos that really no other film I've seen can match. It's been so long since I've seen it that this was like the first time. I hope I don't wait so long again.

Ant-Man (2015): I mostly went to this movie with the expectation of constant reminders of how much better the Edgar Wright-directed version would have been. Then there was one great cut and I realized the film was doing okay. Not game-changing but smart and clever and genuinely funny. More than I'd been expecting. But I think Marvel's outperformed my expectation every time but one. Impressive, really. Although, of course, I have skipped a few installments.

At home:

Saving Mr. Banks (2013): The world will never have too many Emma Thompson-starring vehicles, and we all love Tom Hanks. And certainly this film, exploiting its intertextual relationship with Mary Poppins, is emotionally moving. And no doubt good history, at least as far as the 1960s goes. But the way it draws a pretty little line from childhood events to adulthood behavior is embarrassingly simple. The film can get away with it because Emma Thompson! Tom Hanks! and a quality supporting cast, but the interweaving of flashbacks was clunky and, frankly, at times, cheap. I did like it, but I was expecting much more.

St. Vincent (2014): Bill Murray's most impressive performance, I think. And not just because of the stroke. It's a beautiful film, though it overrelies a bit on music to get the feels at the end.

The Sandlot (1993): I haven't seen this since it was in theaters, but I know a plurality of fourteen-year-olds who count it as their favorite movie. And I have baseball-loving kids. Time to give it a spin. It went over pretty well. Will it become a favorite? Dunno. As for me, I liked it. Like A Christmas Story, it doesn't do as much for me as for other people, but I appreciate the nostalgia, even if it is not mine.

Once I Was a Beehive (2015): Notwithstanding some obvious flaws (the interminable voice over being one), this movie is honest and sweet and earns its emotions. See a fuller review here.

Song of the Sea (2014): You know how Walt Disney paid amazing people to make amazing concept art for his animated films, then only bits of that art made it into the final versions? This film is like that concept art come to life. Beautiful and vital and daring. Artists who understand the rules of perspective and form, and who break them brilliantly. As for story, the best comparison I can think of is Spirited Away, though that movie is more successful storywise (and just as generous artwise), I think because it dares to be small. It's entirely about one girl's journey. Song of the Sea is concerned about one family, yes, but also the fate of all the fae or whatever too. It's too big. More intimacy would have been better. Regardless: a beautiful film. So rich. You can get lost in here.

The Rocketeer (1991): I think I only saw this once, shortly after it came out on video. Yet Lady Steed says I talk about it all the time. So tonight she watched it. And although there's some boners left in the script, the third act in particular holds up marvelous. The moment where the gangsters and the feds join forces against the Nazis is too wonderful. It's pure pulp, but who doesn't enjoy some pulp now and then? Chips of wood are to be expected.

Once I Was a Beehive (2015): Rewatched it with Lady Steed. On second viewing, many of the little things that I didn't like still bothered me, but not as much. So the verdict is: rewatchable.

Paddington (2014): The plot works not because it's original (it's not) but because this movie means it. This movie has heart. The animation is incredible Plus, the flick is just dripping with style. This is, in short, a pretty great movie.

The Secret of Kells (2009): The kids liked The Song of the Sea enough we decided to watch this one as well. Even more visually ambitious than its younger brother, this film is stunningly beautiful and fascinating to watch, as rewarding of close attention as its namesake. Not as much fun, I grant you---"fun" doesn't seem the right word at all---but so so wonderful. I wish more animation took these kinds of chances. I mean, we do see it---"Samurai Jack" seems an obvious comparison---but features meant for large audiences just don't do this. Disney commissioned concept art this startling, but the final products were always much tamer.

My Man Godfrey (1936): I'm delighted Carole Lombard got an Oscar nomination for this role. It's an utterly daffy comic performance that would never get Oscar love today, but the fact she makes it believable is frankly amazing. The whole movie is nutty clear up to the final fade where Lady Steed and I were shouting, "Don't do it, Godfrey!" William Powell, of course, is good as always, and he plays a tough straight role surrounded as he is by a million nutjobs. We did a lot of laughing. Not a movie I can recommend and unqualifiably excellent, but darn it if I didn't enjoy the goldarns out of it.

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994): How does this movie work? It's largely people just telling each other stories, but somehow they come together to create a new, lives story. And in the meantime, the doubter is revealed to be the believer and vice versa--- We picked this up because the kids liked Song of the Sea and hey, why not another selkie movie? I only vaguely remember seeing it when new on VHS; Lady Steed has stronger memories. I wonder how it will settle into our children's memories?

The Double (2013): I can't remember the last feature-length film I've seen like this. This sort of heightened absurdity seems the purview of short films, at least so much as my viewing habits go. It's a doppelganger film (Jesse Eisenberg is awesome at keeping them separate) and it's a film that's aggressively subjective and manages to do nothing but ask questions yet still be satisfying as a whole work of art. It's like . . . the first act of Joe Versus the Volcano with no way out. If you like what I show my students and have ninety minutes available, this is the movie you're looking for.

Frances Ha (2012): I'm not very familiar with the New Wave but the references are so obvious---well, it made me want to spend more time with Truffaut. I didn't have expectations for this film, but I really enjoyed it. It's so intensely mundane. Every time it threatens to fall into movie cliches, it stumbles and returns to the everyday. It finds triumph in being unfinished. Which is kind of marvelous.

Boyhood (2014): Basically what people have said is true. It is both grandiose and intimate. It is stunning/moving/humbling to watch the actors age before our eyes. One strange thing though is that just the characters being American doesn't make them feel much like me. I didn't believe when I was a kid and don't believe now that, for instance, having a beer and getting laid are important milestones of boyhood and so the film feels like an observation of an alien culture even though it is clearly intended to be my own world. That doesn't change the value of the film generally, but it does limit the amount of nostalgia or identification I can engage in.

UHF (1989): Although some of the references are getting a bit dated, UHF holds up. You don't need to get many references for it to bust your gut. And hey---it's been almost 30 years and still no new Weird Al movie? Life is unjust. One last observation: from big sleeves to the similar phone calls to general voice use, Deb of Napoleon Dynamite is clearly influenced by UHF's Teri. How had I never noticed before?

Previous films watched





  1. FYI--these are my favorite posts. Not sure why. I think because I know you, but I never know where you'll come down on a particular movie. (This is generally hard, I think--I'm pretty bad at predicting even my wife's taste in movies.) Also, I'm far more likely to have seen some of the same movies as you have than to have read any of the books you have, which is not at all surprising, perhaps, if you compare the number of books in the world to the number of movies.


    Saving Mr. Banks--Emma Thomas and Tom Hanks are both great, and I never tire of either one of them, but the actor I heart more than any other in Hollywood is Paul Giamatti. I could watch that guy all day long. I assume you've seen Lady in the Water. That's the movie that made me first notice him. But have you ever seen Cold Souls? That's the movie that made me fall in love with him. Now, he could probably just pass through the background of a single scene of a movie and raise my opinion of the whole flick a couple notches. So as soon as he first came on screen in Mr. Banks, I was no longer able to have an unbiased opinion, but, yeah, you're probably right that it could have been better.

    The Rocketeer--At first, I was shocked that you feel like you've only seen this once because I feel like I grew up with it, but then I saw the date and everything made sense: in '91, you childhood was winding down while mine was picking up. Haven't seen it in years, though. I should revisit it--I'm a sucker for anything that has Nazi's as the bad guys.

    My Man Godfrey--I'm surprised you haven't seen this one before. The only reason I have is because we picked it up from the Provo library. I remember laughing the whole way through and then being extremely distressed by his apparent complicity with the last scene. Also, something funny about a Pomeranian.

    UHF--I don't think I've seen this since I watched it at your place in 2004 when I flew to Utah to help you move, yet just today I said, "It sticks!" and laughed inwardly. Also, anytime I mop, I think, "This is a pretty good mop. My friend George gave me this mop."

    Bonus: a couple nights ago I watched Live. Die. Repeat./Edge of Tomorrow. Awesome. Just awesome. Once a lustrum I get unexpectedly swept away by an action/sci-fi flick, and it's the most delightful experience. Last time, it was Cloverfield, which did not stand up to rewatching, so I'm hesitant to give this one another go (which is unfortunate, since I watched it solo and am tempted to share it with Katie)--regardless, I'm oh so happy I watched it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. .

    Lustrum's a cool word. That's a new one for me.

    I haven't seen either of the Giamatti movies you mention. I've heard many times Giamatti's the only reason to watch Lady in the Water---is that your opinion as well? I remember you telling me about Cold Souls at the parents last go round but it slipped my mind. Time to check the library!

    UHF is crazy quotable. And I caught more jokes this time than every before because we projected it up big. Highly recommended!

    Otherwise, love the comments. I'm always interested in what you think. And I just got a copy of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at a library sale ($1), so expect that next go round. (Probably. I've owned Godfather over ten years and still haven't watched it....)

  3. I don't think I've ever been as happy to stumble upon a word as I was when I stumbled upon lustrum. I knew, knew, knew there had to be a word for half a decade, and then I was at a theme park and saw a fake hotel with a sign saying, "Rooms by the day, month, or lustrum" and I've been a wholer man ever since.

    You haven't seen Lady in the Water? This shocks me. I think it's worth a watching. I've seen it at least twice, though as such far spread intervals that it's been more like seeing it a first time repeatedly. I remember being smitten with it the first time I saw it, though that's no guarantee of worthwhileness. If you're only gonna watch one of the two, though, I'd definitely recommend Cold Souls. It's Paul Giamatti playing a guy named Paul Giamatti who reminds me a lot of Paul Giamatti. I don't remember much about the plot, but I remember sitting there the whole time and being like, "Who is this guy, and where can I see more of him?"

    Sooo excited for you to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In the words of the ex-roommate who recommended it to me: "I've only known one person who didn't like, and I'm pretty sure he was a Communist." Sadly, it's one we lost in our move, so I haven't seen it in a while, but I still think of it fondly on a regular basis. I don't expect it to change your life or kill you with laughter, but I fully expect that, after it ends, you'll sit back and say, "I thoroughly enjoyed that."

  4. I hardly watch any movies anymore, but Frances Ha was awesome.

    I realized that all my favorite movies are "coming of age" type movies. Have you seen Adventureland?

  5. .

    No, I haven't actually. I think maybe you suggested it to me once before, now that you mention it. Someone did and it may have been you.

    How did you happen upon Frances Ha?