The Boss Baby (2017): I wasn't that interested in this movie until I read an article saying that the filmmakers tried to bring a traditional 2D sensibility to 3D animation. The books (1, 2) are great reads---at least as the current owner of a baby I think so---but the trailer showed that the movie was going to stray pretty far from the basic concept they present. In fact, having now seen the movie, it introduces even more high-concept nonsense that could very well have overwhelmed it with bad attempts at making absurdity rational. Many a kids' movie has perished under such a pressing. What makes Boss Baby not only survive but thrive under this weight is its open embrace of childhood imagination. And the 2D sensibility comes into play here. Many of the openly imagined scenes look crafted by Mary Blair or other midcentury concept artists / Golden Books illustrators. In other words, this film gives us what we think we want from a modern animated film, and delivers it through the medium of what our souls actually crave. I hope it's a harbinger.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): This is just pure, crackling entertainment. Laffs. Tears. Surprises. Action. Reversals. Reveals. Joy. Sadness. Explosions. Suggestions of depth. Arguments for meaning. Color. Charm. Pleasure.
Wonder Woman (2017): Another great superhero movie with more than the average blockbuster's amount of depth. A lot of the movies wonder grows from watching Diana develop from a naif to one with wisdom. It's hard-earned. But Gal Gadot was up to the task. If this role doesn't overwhelm our impressions of her, she'll be around a long long time and should have an interesting career. Also: her theme is one of the greatest of all time. The first time I heard it (earliest trailer) it already felt like it had been hers since the birth of metal.
Back to the Future (1985): With bis brothers both gone to Grandma's a couple days, son #2 deserved something special and in this case that was letting him watch a movie he's been begging to watch ever since his older brother got to see it two Decembers ago. I wasn't so excited to see it again so soon, but wanted the experience to be as special for him as he hoped it would be. So I faked enthusiasm. Didn't take long for the enthusiasm to turn real, however, as, let's face it: this is a pretty great movie. Of course, no he wants to watch the sequels....
The Puffy Chair (2005): Ah, the birth of mumblecore! The movie that launched an empire! This film was filmed on the cheap* (and it shows), but it's well written and well acted and small enough to fit in the budget. I'll never watch it again and I don't know that I would necessarily recommend it, but I get why it's a touchstone and I thought it was truthful about things in a way that I understood, even if this is not my life. (In a way that, say Linklater's Dazed or Boyhood did not for me.)
Son of Kong (1933): This is a straight sequel to the original King Kong, bringing back several key and side players of the original cast (or crew, I suppose, being primarily men of the ship). The set-up is strong, but it loses its way a bit on the island---Kong junior plays for laughs a few times, mugging the camera and everything. And just as the story is taking off, they find treasure and a simultaneous earthquake/hurricane destroys the island. So while a lot of the instincts here were good, the execution of the last two acts gets more rushed and more sloppy until it's suddenly just over. Still: kid-friendly.
A Town Called Panic (2009): The kids got into this almost immediately, notwithstanding their aversion for subtitles. And of course! It's hilarious! But what interests me about the film is how much madness and absurdity it manages to hang on an extremely traditional structure.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016): I'm still filled with regret for not voting with my dollars and seeing this in theaters last summer, but hey! We watched it! It was good! My stomach doesn't ache from laughing as I expected, but it was funny---Sam Neill is brilliant, the kid is ... um, is "the boy Rebel Wilson" unkind? And Rhys Darby is a bleeding treasure. My dad would love this movie ... I'll bet you will too.
Fun and Fancy Free (1947): Although I've seen "Bongo" a time or three and "Mickey and the Beanstalk" many many times, I'm not sure I've seen the full, connected package before. (And I'm fairly certain I'm more familiar with the Ludwig Von Drake-narrated version of M&thBs that was made for tv.) To my surprise, the kids' favorite part of the show was probably Charlie McCarthy's snide remarks. Time to break out the Bergen!
To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters (2016): I was confused the first half hour because I was certain the severe stout sister must be Anne and confused at the role she was taking in the family. Once I got the casting sorted out, I did much better. The cinematography is beautiful. And you know, for all the tragedy, what a family to be born into.
Midnight Special (2016): Acting, editing, cinematography, etc very real. As Lady Steed says, "It felt real. Like it could really happen." The end even has realistic loose ends. In fact, it seemed to suggest new loose ends (was that flicker a "twist"?). And I didn't like the Tomorrowland-esque visuals at the end. I don't know that attempting to execute, say, a heavenly look would have been better or not. I dunno. It's weird for such a good movie to be rather ungood. Perhaps---perhaps it improves with further viewings. I can see that.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016
): We watched it with the boys and I have to say: it's better the second time.
Noroît (1976): This is a strange, strange movie. Which is fine, but in this case I think I would have been well served to do some reading up on it before digging in. The way it uses an old play in English (probably by Middleton) and the artistic choice to reimagine the utility of language in film took me most of the movie to figure out on my own. My favorite part is one of the murder-by-dance sequences at the end. The film this most reminds me of is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in how it incorporates old theatrical elements into the movie. This one, however, manages to get less and less filmic just as it starts introducing techniques that only exist in film. Curious movie.
Hail, Caesar! (2016): The scene with the religious figures was the best of its kind since Hudsucker Proxy; the film homages were delightful even when they highlighted my ignorance; the religious aspects were honest; Clooney was underutilized; I really need to see it again to figure out just what I think.
All the President's Men (1976): We had to keep pausing this movie so we could chat and make sure we were grasping all the threads and the end comes in a massive rush of type, but overall the movie was terrific and eerily NOW. Lady Steed was convinced Woodward and Bernstein were going to die. All I can say is, when reporters start dying, that's when the American experiment will truly be over.
Sully (2016): The structure of this film is pretty interesting---how it keeps circling around the central incident, showing it from different angles, perspectives, understandings. It takes a couple shortcuts in storytelling (the bureaucrat's a meanie! now he's not!), but they're classy enough that they don't really damage the experience too much (understanding their motivation in making certain assumptions would have been nice, but okay). Certainly it was stressful when it was supposed to be---which is important even in a disaster movie where no one dies.
The Handmaiden (2016): In retrospect, probably should not have watched this. Those sex scenes may well prove sticky. That said, this movie was wonderfully crafted. Complex, circuitous, ambiguous, confusing, revealing, beautiful. I needed to read the Wikipedia article to clear a few things up---probably because I watched the movie in three or four pieces over six weeks---but even with those moments of confusion, it was coherent and lovely. Hitchcock would have been impressed.
Romeo and Juliet (1968): I am so intimately familiar with this movie now that I can tell when someone's reaction begins a shade too soon or the edit reveals someone facing a slightly different direction. In other words, I'm moving past opinions of good or bad and into something purely factual. I'm prepared for every finger-wiggle. It's weird to watch a movie from the perspective of omniscience.
The Ghost Writer (2010): I just read the book and so I wanted to see the movie. This is a case where that was a grave mistake. Based on the reviews, it seems like it must be a pretty good movie, but it didn't fare so well in the side-by-side comparison. Some setpieces (eg, the ferry footchase and the concept [if not the execution] of the denouement) count as improvements, but knowing what was coming weakened the film beyond repair. Perhaps it's unfair to come into a thriller knowing its twists. Then again, how many times can one watch Vertigo without it losing its thrills? (Answer: at least one more.)
Romeo + Juliet (1996): To me, this film is as fresh and as vital as the first time I saw it (2005?). But I realized this time around that it might not seem that way to fourteen-year-old anymore. I'm also worried that their filmic vocabulary is too limited to really understand what they're seeing. I'm not sure. Never base conclusions on one set of kids. As for me, this is the only cultural event I missed during my mission that's tinged by regret.
Fences (2016): I know this play extremely well. I've been teaching it about three years now and read it at least a dozen, probably twenty times. I know it. The first half of the movie I had the same kind of experience as with The Ghost Writer---it was just people saying words I knew. But the second half of the move tore out my heart and shredded it and then built me a new one prone to weeping. Terrific movie.
Forbidden Zone (1980): I heard about this movie on a podcast and decided I needed to watch it. Now, in my opinion, this kind of madcap surrealism, even when well done, is best finished under ten minutes. This is over seventy. (Also, I discovered after watching it, it's been colorized. I don't know how easily available the original b&w is to find.) But it's pure madness. I could cite you references and similarities all day, but here are a few to help you get a sense: Monty Python's Terry Gilliam, pre-Mickey Silly Symphonies, Max Fleischer, Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, Mary Reid Kelley, Nightmare Before Christmas.The plot doesn't really matter. The point is that the id has been loosed and we're lost in a dreamland with its own logic, absurd (and non-nice) as that may be.
Pride & Prejudice (2005): Every time I watch this movie I'm struck by the differences with the novel, but I still love it. The acting is terrific, the cinematography is stunning, the score is lovely. I will always have issues with the last two minutes, but overall I think it's a wonderful film. Man, those cameras! And I for one love the warmer Mr and Mrs Bennet relationship. And the general earthiness of the thing.
F for Fake (1973): This is a strange movie and I was deadly tired when I was watching it. I probably should have stopped it and just taken a nap, but I was afraid of losing hold of its many threads and kept going. I suspect that, regardless, this is a film not easily appreciated upon first viewing anyway. I can't honestly say that I liked it or disliked it, but listening to Orson Welles for 88 minutes is pleasure enough, don't you agree?
Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995): A charming documentary by his former partner and muse made largely from Welles's own unused footage. It humanizes him greatly. It shows that he could have been a master of YouTube had he hung around long enough. Clearly he never stopped working, even if fate and temperament kept him from finishing things. It also suggests a second something that may have gotten in the way: that very muse. He was clearly infatuated with her body---and so was she. In this film she includes a lot of her own youthful nudity. I think they may both have been seduced more by her youthful pneumatics than by his wisdom and experience.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994): First time I've seen the unedited thing! Like most Americans, I've only ever seen this film on tv. Put together, it's marvelous. It's been long enough since I've seen it at all that I can't really speak to the differences between this version and the tvified version---I wasn't surprised by anything---but it was unquestionably a thing of beauty. Almost too beautiful, maybe, but true enough that skepticism doesn't stick.
Casablanca (1942): Gets better every time. EV ER Y TIME.
Spirited Away (2001): I love this movie, but apparently they're watching it in a couple other classes, so I need to substitute it for another Miyazaki movie. Maybe it's time to try Mononoke again....
Psycho (1960): I love watching/hearing jaded teenage audiences react to this movie.
Rushmore (1998): A couple elements of this movie have suddenly aged (mostly kissing scenes), but it's still a masterpiece.
Do the Right Thing (1989): I skipped about 90 seconds of a certain scene, and with that gone I have no regrets about using this film. It shakes the kids, it brings some needed diversity to what I'm teaching, it full of Filmic Stuff, its literary while pushing against our stereotypes of what that means. It's a rough movie, but it's so human we can take it.
The Iron Giant (1999): Anyone who saw it as a child---even if they watched it over and over---is amazed when they revisit it later and discover it is capable of tearing out your soul and shining the light of heaven through it.
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987): The end of this movie is truly beautiful, but the first two acts are centered around an almost documentarian set of scenes of a) Robin Williams performing and b) scenes of everyday life in Vietnam. As I've never found Robin Williams to be all that funny, this got tiresome. I don't regret waiting this long to watch the movie, but neither do I regret having finally seen it. It's a curious snapshot of what the Sixties looked like when they were only twenty years old.
Previous films watched