First-quarter films


In theaters:

Zootopia (2016): Almost all our going-to-see-a-movie plans have fallen apart this quarter, but I don't regret making it to Zootopia which, I suspect, will be everyone's second favorite movie. (Their firsts will differ, but everyone gonna like Zootopia.) And rightly so. It captures better than any other movie I've seen our mobile world, and it's very funny at times and genuinely moving at others. Its central metaphor also succeeds, although it has to break the central mystery slighlty awkwardly in half to really fully accomplish that aim. In fact, my only real complaint with this film is its mystery---the engine of its plot---which has no real twists because said reveals project themselves a few scenes ahead of time. This damages a first watch, but the value of a mystery film has more to do with all the non-reveal aspects---after all, the second through nth viewings all begin with the ending already clear. Too soon to say if those aspects will hold up to repeated viewings. They seem great, but they all hang off the arms of a plot that's a bit lacking in rigor. So: time will tell.

At home:

Wonder Boys (2000): A colleague was shocked a couple weeks ago when I admitted that I had never seen this movie. As an English teacher and especially as a writer I was guaranteed to love it. Um. Hmm. In fact, I don't even really get it. A bit of thinking tells me it's because I really don't understand any of the relationships in this movie. None of them ring true to me. Lady Steed and I even laughed some times when the narrator talked about how important other people were to him. I don't think the movie was joking though....

Mystery Men (1999): I've been wanting to rewatch this movie for so long and now I finally have and guys! guys! guys! It's so good! It totally holds up! Sure, the effects are a tiny bit dated and sure it's responding to mid90s Batman movies, but it's totally now! This is the comic-book era and this movie has a strong claim on the Best Superhero Comedy prize. It's parody and satire and absolutely earnest and real. And it dates back to that moment when both it looked like Hank Azaria was going to be a big movie star and Ben Stiller was becoming one. And the latter's interaction with Janeane Garofalo's never been better. And William H. Macy's stolid, downhome performance is amazing. And it has one of the most shocking midmovie turns since Psycho (though that shock might be less now than it was a decade ago). Mmmmmm. Any chance we'll finally get a Flaming Carrot movie on the 20th anniversary?

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): Well. It's not as good as the first one. Some of the wit feels a bit forced and no matter how hard movies try, I'll never believe Jeremy Renner's anything but a tool. Plus, the CG was grotesque. Nothing about that first fight scene felt part of the real world. (And don't get me started on the use of breasts in this movie.) Even the parts of this movie that felt honest in the moment, in retrospect feel a contrived and manipulative and frankly a bit dishonest. I think part of the problem is the weight of juggling so many characters and ongoing storylines. Ant-Man was more focused and I think that's part of the reason it succeeded. All that said though, it did a good job setting up the next Captain America and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

Help! (1965): This is the kids' first Beatles movie and it's certainly easily accessible madcap nonsense with vocal work that will recur in Terry Gilliam animations for Python. It might be a bit projective of me, but one of the things I find interesting rather than headshaking is the whitewashed acting of a nonsensical Eastern . . . thing. Is it a people? Merely a religion? How many of those white Easterners are maybe known to be white? The film feels like a parody of all-white casts of people of color. The only actual people of color are the Bermuda police---who, it might be pointed out, are by far the most competent people to help the Beatles in their hour of need. (And this is without mentioning the satirical barbs at 1965 Britain.) At any rate, it's one of the high points of 60s film-comedy madness. I would love to see this kind of creativity in current film comedy. (I'ld also love to dress as a 1965 Beatle.) (They can keep the hair.)

Inside Out (2015): Did I weep? Yes I did. Now I'm off to watch Riley's First Date and weep some more. [UPDATE: That short's not really a weeper.]

The Princess Bride (1987): First time for the kids! And it's apparently been over a decade and a half since Lady Steed's seen it as well, so she was gasping and laughing along with them. You know what for me is the most emotionally resonant line in the movie is? The last one. And knowing it's coming gets me teary-eyes in anticipation.

Seven Samurai (1954): You know, for a three-and-a-half-hour movie, this sure did not drag. It just kept on going. Even the slow and quiet moments were laden with below-the-surface action of one sort or another, whether scene-setting or character-building or what. It's beautiful and moving and even the most absurd characters are slowly invested with pathos and reality.

A Hard Day's Night (1964): Has some classic moments and captures an era and comes first, but besides those---call me a philistine but, well, I like Help! better. Probably even the music. Still. Given that I'll spend most of my time middle-aged and old , the least I can hope for is to be clean. . . .

Spy (2015): Totally lives up to the billing. A brilliant new take on the spy genre and this is the showcase Melissa McCarthy has now proved she absolutely deserves. It's also a good example of how over-the-top vulgarity can be used like a paintbrush rather than a bludgeon. Though that's hardly the correct simile for this movie.

Life Itself (2014): This life of Roger Ebert is a bit so-what in its first act, but ultimately, it finds a lot to say. It has genuine emotion and finds a way to be about love and family and friendship and kindness and art. It takes some interesting chances too, such as extended outtakes from Siskel & Ebert, that do more storytelling than, for instance, the filmmaker's voiceover that was much of the problem in the first act. But I imagine it's hard for a director who no doubt owes Ebert's love of Hoop Dreams at least in part for his career, to be dispassionate. And would you want him to be?

The Magnificent Seven (1960): Maybe it's because I just watched Seven Samurai but . . . it's no Seven Samurai. Although the individual scenes are paced much as in Kurosawa's film, those scenes are crammed together. And for a long time it has a tortured relationship, uncertain what to borrow, what to leave, and what order to put them all in. The film's strongest when it goes off to make its own path---the third act, notably. Final analysis? A bit slight in its development (perhaps the director was relying on our [formerly] preexisting knowledge of what sort of characters the bit actors tended to play?) but it ends strong---we learn more about many of the characters in their final moments of action than in the preceding ninety minutes.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008): Having been watching the six new episodes and trying to answer questions about things we'd forgotten, we discovered there'd been two movies. Two movies! Why don't we remember the second? Anyway, we'd seen it before. In fact, all our memories about the two movies were off. Me, for instance, I remember going to the theater and watching the first movie with Lynsey. But when it came out, we hadn't met yet. And no memory of having seen this one before, yet we had seen it. Maybe we forgot because it was more like an overlong episode than a movie? I don't know. I don't know. Pretty good episode, though, even if it was a bit long.


It Follows (2014): What a great movie. I was squirming in my seat the whole way through. A note on interpretation. The obvious one is that it's a commentary on modern sex culture and, you know, kids having sex too easily etc etc. That's too simple, though. Because once they have their supernatural STD, their behavioral options diverge. So I think it deserves a variety of readings. Make it about youthful error in general, for instance. Try reading this movie as a comment on student-loan debt and never sleep again.

Romeo and Juliet (1968): As I grow more and more familiar with the play, I find any given director's choices all the more interesting. For instance, why drop all references of Rosaline until Friar Lawrence? And that's not the only thing rendered nonsequitery by this script. But no matter. Yet I love it.

Romeo + Juliet (1996): I am rather predictable, am I not? Maybe if any other play had two movies so different yet so true I could make a change...?

Stranger than Fiction (2006): Will Ferrell is incredible in this movie, don't you think? And Emma Thompson! Emma Thompson, everybody! And Maggie and Dustin and Queen (do people call her "Queen"?) are no slouches either. The acting is great. It's well written. The play with image is terrific. I just tried out using it as a companion to The Princess Bride with the freshmen (metafiction, yo). I need to refine it a bit, but this trial run was a huge success.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1998): My brother has been promoting this movie to me for years. His general pitch is this: "This won't be your favorite movie, but everyone I've ever recommended this movie to found it to be time well spent." And he is right. It's not my favorite movie, but I certainly enjoyed myself. The first third was a bit slow and I saw the final reveal just before it happened, but the latter in particular I don't mind, because it had a secondary payoff that was greater than the first. I love me a good con (in film, not real life, stay away), and this one lets the matchsticks pass by each other, work together, work against each other, etc. And seriously: Michael Caine and Steve Martin? Come on!

Previous films watched




1 comment:

  1. Of course you get round to watching DRS the quarter when I have a baby--not to mention the quarter when you also watched Stranger than Fiction, which I also love. It makes me wish Will Ferrell would do more serious-ish comedy because he's really really good at it.

    I actually have Help! and Hard Day's Night waiting for me to pick them up at the library. My guess is that my opinion will match yours, but we'll see.

    Also--you make me want to see Zootopia. I've heard good things, but I've been unsure.

    And that's the end of this belated and scattered comment.