Final quarter of films


In theaters:

The Peanuts Movie (2015): I wrote a whole post on this movie. In short, despite its flaws, I had a wonderful time watching this movie. It made me happy and warmed my soul---in other words, not the bombastic monstrosity we feared. In fact, this film, arguably more than any other Peanuts animation, captured the idiosyncratic line quality of the strip. Not at all what I assumed would be the case when 3D renders first hit the scene all those months ago. So phew. And yay.

The Good Dinosaur (2015): I don't know what this film was like before it was completely rejiggered, but the current marketing utterly failed to sell it honestly. Here's what you need to know: it's a western. Classic western. Disaster strikes the old farm. A young man out on his own. Cowboys and bandits, good guys and bad guys, growing up. It even fits in a wild-animal story while finding a better solution to the inevitable separation than IDONTLOVEYOUANYMORE. Look: the film has flaws (key among them the ungood apatosaurus design), but most of its problems are, in my opinion, bad marketing.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): My favorite parts were when Han and Leia were on screen together. In part because they are Han and Leia but undoubtedly because, as they've aged, my father and Han Solo have gotten closer and closer in appearance. (The actors being about the same heights as my parents can't hurt either.) The rest of the film was good and I enjoyed it and look forward to watching it again to discover if I want to watch it again to discover if I want to watch it again to discover if I want to watch it again to discover if I want to watch it again. And if I do, then we'll declare it a worthy successor.

At home:

The Skeleton Twins (2014): Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader transition to drama much better than, say, Jim Carrey (and they certainly make believable siblings). This is a sad tale, but it's grounded in a solid, real relationship and even the most joked-at character finds pathos in the end. Tight script. A joyful drag.

Heavy Metal (1981): I saw snippets of this movie with some frequency during sleepless high school nights, up late, channel surfing, often landing on USA. One memorable time, I watched one of its naked women flying away at a hotel with my mother and she didn't even notice. It being a cartoon, it didn't register to her as threatening. It's been probably more than twenty years since I last saw it, so who knows how correct my memories are, but I'm quite certain a lot got cut from USA's broadcasts. For one thing, there are even more ridiculous breasts. More in the senses of both total number and anatomy. The anthology format is interesting, but---as in many anthology films---ultimately artificial. It's also weird how poorly rotoscoping has aged. And the actions scenes kind of suck, honestly. But there is a sort of adolescent purity to the thing. And now I can lay that piece of my past to rest. (Although I should add that this movie almost certainly inspired my childhood. It's hard to believe the hero of the final segment didn't provide some vital DNA to Masters of the Universe---she looks like the Sorceress and He-Man stole some of her gimmicks.)

UHF (1989): Since last quarter's viewing Son #1 has been quoting this movie relentlessly. And so now it's been seen by all three. Amazing how well this film predicted everything from Adult Swim to YouTube. (Not so good at predicting FCC regulations.)

Frankenweenie (2012): Not quite as good the second time (flaws do rise to the surface...), but it didn't have low expectations going for it anymore. The danger of success. Still: eminently enjoyable.

Bernie (2011): I enjoyed this movie so much, with its sorta-documentary style and really terrific performance from Jack Black. It is funny, but the sad parts are sadder than the funny parts are funny. Because the pathos Jack Black brings to the role makes you feel so much for Bernie that we too can't escape the shadow he's trapped under, even when everyone else is convinced nothing is wrong.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): First time I've seen this since the second film disappointed me and broke my heart and made me swear off pirates all together. Happily, tonight we broke this out to share with the kids and it's still wonderful. Structural elements and details that mirror Star Wars and Indiana Jones and thus show why these things are always awesome when done well. And Johnny Depp. And Geoffrey Rush. And the two pretty characters. And all the character actors along the edges. I will admit this time I noticed a couple flaws, but they aren't the sort of flaws that matter. Like, in Jurassic Park, the goat/cliff problem. These things are storytelling and if the storytelling is done well enough, slight flaws don't matter. Major flaws do, however, and bringing back Barbosa in the second movie is one of those. Yes, Black Pearl made me want to watch all the sequels but, alas, I know better. Shame.

School of Rock (2003): This remains such a pure expression of joy. Hard to imagine it ever getting old.

Enemy (2013): Came out the same year as the last doppelganger film we watched. This one takes itself a bit too seriously and ends up confused about what it's saying. The other film also asked more than it answered, but it didn't fetishize uncertainty. Great acting in this one too, but watch the other one.

Big Eyes (2014): Although, when you start looking, you can find Tim Burtony aspects to this movie, it's most remarkable, as a Tim Burton movie, for its restraint. The acting is good. Amy Adams has the smallest eyes of any actress in the film. It's a respectful biopic. It's a good movie. I'm not sure we'll remember it in ten years, however. I'm not sure that we will.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989): Kids of today produce a verdict of hilarious. I have to say: although it's by no means a "great" movie, I still had a great time watching it too. They're begging for Bogus Journey tomorrow.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991): When I was a kid, I liked this movie more than the first in the series. Having just watched them on back-to-back nights, I have to disagree with myself. Although its higher points may be higher, it's crasser, less guileless, and the third act ddrraaggss. That said, party on dudes.

The Parent Trap (1961): This film runs long by contemporary standards, but I don't find any fat on its bones. It's funny and heartfelt and honest. And, watching it the first time as a parent, kind of great on more than one level.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Finally I have seen this movie. I am one step closer to being able to accept my eventual demise. This is a hard film to write about in just one paragraph. Let's start by saying I won't judge it by how well it responds to the book. Even including a prologue with the Shelleys and Byron, it's making no attempts to be THAT Frankenstein---and rightly so. It's a distinctly noncinematic book---a "true" adaptation is impossible. The makeup and performance of Karloff is terrific. The side characters are great. The religious imagery is moving. The Bride is on screen not nearly long enough. The ending is nonsense and sours the experience for me. Is it a masterpiece? I dunno. I love its use of techniques from both the melodrama and German Expressionism while remaining essentially naturalistic. Parts of the film are hard to enjoy as filmed when your mind's been polluted by Young Frankenstein. Another thing: the pacing and length of this film (quick but able to be slow / an hour fifteen) prove that it's possible to make a great movie using time much differently than modern film. I'm not sure a film shaped and stretched like this one could be accepted today, but I would love to see some attempts made. Anyway, I liked it well enough. And for a gay man, James Whale seems to understand the filming of breasts quite well. Can you say that on Thutopia?

Wild (2014): This is an amazing film. The way it's shot, the way it's edited, the way it plays with chronology and memory, the use of color, what Reese Witherspoon does with her face---both with the muscles under the skin and the abuse to the skin itself. The film does a terrific job of showing darkness and pain and distance. I feel I learned about not just hiking, but mourning and despair and depravity and loneliness being a lone woman in a world that threatens to take advantage of you in that state. It's beautifully shot and beautifully paced. I'm happy Witherspoon is still with us. I'm amazed Nick Hornby was capable of writing it. I see now why people speak highly of Jean-Marc Vallée. This movie will probably change a few lives. (The cgi fox, however, c'mon.)

The Mountain of the Lord (1993): Although no one's likely to confuse it with a purely-meant-for-entertainment version of the same story, this is pretty good stuff. Some of the performances are just terrific, especially the guy playing Wilford Woodruff. His performance really is both corner- and capstone of the film. One line ("He was right. He was . . . always right.") is just one of those lines I always have access to. Bit of an obscure reference for most audiences, I suppose. Anyway. The older two kids really liked it. So that's a win as well.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010): [Note: began this elsewhere, finished it at home.] I saw the first short film a few years ago and I may have shared it with you then. This was a successful transition to a full-length film with an actual narrative. In fact, were it not for the penises and the subtitles and the being a horror film, this would be a great film to share with my dad. It's the whole boy-becoming-a-man tale that he digs. And sure, a couple of the story beats are less well developed, but the film is so assured and smart about what it is and where it's going that we're completely willing to forgive it. In short: Santa is found buried under a mountain in Lapland by some nosy Americans and then, well, things get started. (Horror movie.) The film is much less gory and jumpy than I had expected. It's more a story of a family and friends and wilderness hardship---it's almost a western, in that way. Only instead of Injuns or oilmen or something, it's Santa. Some cable station should play THIS movie all day Christmas. That's what I say.

Elf (2003): Maybe it's regular exposure, but that third act gets less terrible with each viewing. Or maybe it's just that the joy of renewing my love for Zooey Deschanel gets me through. In other news, I've arrived at a theory as to why they get publishing so wrong: it's not publishing they're showing, it's an oversimplified version of blockbuster filmmaking. That makes more sense. Anyway, we'll let Will Ferrell's guileless performance cancel out that annoyance and Zooey's cancel out the third act and what's left? Just the funfunfunnest Christmas movie ever.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977): I've been reading a lot of articles from 1977 and so watching it this time, I've tried to experience the film as if it were 1977 and instead of this defining film for me, it's breaking what I think about film. Which was a pretty great way to watch it. Although the 1997 additions really do feel out of place and a bit draggy. Still. IT'S STAR WARS.

Die Hard (1988): I've realized for a while now that I would have to watch Die Hard someday. It's reached classic status and even its role as a Christmas movie has moved past the joke stage. Even this year's Christmas episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Die Hard-themed. The reason of course is that the first Die Hard movie is that rare action film where the hero could, in fact, die. The hero as played by then-comedian Bruce Willis is mortal, vulnerable, human. And that's the sort of hero that makes for the best action movie. Twenty-seven years in, Die Hard thrills.

Back to the Future (1985): With the younger two kids gone, we're finally getting to the must-see movies of 2015. First one was a hit. I gotta say it holds up. And that I get a lot more references I did when I saw it the first time, at a friend's slumber party. Long, long ago. Anyway. Back to the future.

Back to the Future Part II (1989): Okay. I admit it. There is one pretty big flaw in the time-travel logic. But hey---time travel. Anyway, I love how integrated the sequels are, even if Crispin Glover did sue.

Back to the Future Part IIi (1990): THE END appeared on the screen with 23 seconds left in 2015. What a marvelously satisfying way to end 2015.


Hamlet (1990): This is still my favorite filmed Hamlet. I'm ready for a new competitor to win the day, however.

The Bad Seed (1956): Yes! I'm so pleased when a film lives up to its reputation, and this one's only real flaw is one it shares with Psycho (which came out four years later---it was the times) and that's a tendency to over-explain the psychology at work here. Otherwise (other than a few weird time issues that were rather playlike and shouldn't have appeared in a film), this film is awesome. Chilling. Shocking. I couldn't believe what was happening even though I had known coming in what this was all about. It's...just great. I do take issue with its Hays-Code ending, but that hardly takes away from the pleasures. If we can call them that....

Romeo and Juliet (1968): The best way to watch this film is with freshmen who behave like groundlings, overreacting to all the sex and violence.

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996): Watch it with the right people, and this is the closest to the Globe you can get.

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012): Dan Hertzfeldt's feature is a thing of beauty---a melancholy meditation on mortality and madness. And his filmic voice is so unique. I found it moving, and hope to watch it many more times.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015): I was subbing someone else's class and after some false starts and through some interruptions, we were to watch this film. Luckily, the class was right before lunch, so I got an extra 35 minutes of watch time, but to finish before my next class started, I had to watch some of the last bits on fast forward. It's a shame, because the film was good---chilling as a film on this story should be. It's shocking to watch how quickly the guards degrade. Frankly, it's their degradation that says more about humanity than the prisoner's. If you've been wondering if this film does credit to this true story, it does.

Previous films watched





  1. Still no Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels, I see....

    re: Dad and Harrison Ford--it's the hair, isn't it?

    School of Rock--I'm pretty sure the first time I saw this was at a dollar theater in Provo, though I can't for the life of me remember why we were there. Any idea what happened in to 2003? My chief memory of it is that, during the credits, Jack Black was singing a song with the kids, and near the end he started extemporizing lyrics encouraging us to leave the theater so the people could come "clean the sticky stuff off the floor." The few times I've seen it on DVD since them, I've been sad that this wasn't included.

    Excellent Adventure--Katie&I watched this recently. It was her first time. I feel like I mentioned this to you, probably in the comments of one of these posts, which see, if you can find it (I can't).

    Bogus Journey--I've only seen this maybe twice. I remember my mind being blown by robot Bill&Ted taking the skin off their faces off. I also remember them playing games against death and the weird couple of critters they pick up in heaven. Also, something about a tv broadcast blowing some speakers right at the end. Is there much more to it than that?

    The Mountain of the Lord -- There was a brief phase in my childhood (perhaps after you left home) when Mom would bring home movies from the church library for us to watch, and this was one of them. I remember almost nothing about it except that there was some historical tidbit Shawn picked up that enabled him to wow his seminary teacher a day or two later. Where did you manage to find it?

    Back to the Future -- Love, love, love this trilogy. Hands down my favorite trilogy. It beats Star Wars; it beats LOTR; it beats Toy Story; it beats Dark Knight--I could watch them all day long. The logical gap in II is real, but it allows us to take a second stroll through the '50s, this time with two Marties and two Docs--I wouldn't trade that for anything.

  2. .

    I knew you would notice that DRS was missing. . . .

    On my DVD the Jack Black stuff over the credits is all there. Are you sure you're not just popping it out early---?

    Re Bogus Journey: the death stuff is probably the only part really worth watching. A couple good moments elsewhere, but only moments. The death stuff though is excellent.

    I bought Mtn of the Lord in Salt Lake when we were there. It's one of the few films the Church is still offering for sale.

    The logic gap in BTTFII is like the disappearing ground in Jurassic Park. Unless you're looking for it, you won't notice it because the film is telling its story so well you don't even care if there are little continuity errors like that.

    The only thing that makes me sad about the last two films is no new work from Crispin Glover.