Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017): This doesn't rise to the heights of its most obvious forebear (1977's Star Wars---perhaps you've heard of it?), but it has a pleasing humanity that's clear from the opening sequence explaining how the titular city came to be. It has some flaws, many of which would have been easily fixed (establish that the leads had been working together for some time; tweak the bad guy's exposure; show Rihanna taking an injury), but overall I thought this movie gave me something I haven't seen before and did so with panache. I also appreciated its ability to be original while allowing subtle nods to its ancestry (including at least two to that 1977 film). I don't think it's a masterpiece but I hope it succeeds---if for no other reason than to show that a new way of funding blockbusters has validity. (And hey---it's at least as good as Tomorrowland.)
Dunkirk (2017): I read on Facebook, someone complaining that this film was too simple with not enough subplots. Perhaps on some level this is true, in terms of sheer numbers, but I see this complaint as high praise for a film that attempted something rather complex in terms of how it interweaves its three stories (I'm sure you've heard, but the three differ in time covered: a week, a day, an hour [ish]) I'm not a big one for war movies, but it was that innovative angle that got me into the theater. And Nolan pulls it off with aplomb. I don't know whether this is a "great" movie (only time can answer that question), but no question it succeeded as a suspenseful sequence of tiny character studies splashed over a large canvas of human suffering. Although all does not end perfectly, the heroism and survival that does come to the front is pretty awesome.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): This. Was a great movie. Sure, I laughed, I cried---but I do that a lot. Let me give you a couple examples that lifts this above other well made, heartfelt popular film. One. The bad guy. Although they may have been more evocative comic book villains, there ain't many. And probably none of them has been as human as this Vulture. Somehow, in very few scenes, they managed to tell a tragedy. And, post-credits-spoiler alert, then they managed to drop in an earned redemption. That is no mean feat. Two. Partway through the movie, I thought to myself, Hey, self. I'm disappointed there hasn't been more of Aunt May and Peter's relationship here. Well, I may have thought that, but clearly I was wrong. Because that I-cried, I mentioned later? Two May scenes did that. And I haven't even talked about Peter as a true high-school student or the use of action or the layering of father figures or the trust of audience or anything else. I know I say Marvel movies often don't hold up to rewatching, but I'm confident this one will. It's the best Marvel movie yet.*
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): I've finally seen it. And on the big screen, on scratched film, preceded by the mighty Wurlitzer and a cartoon. And I recognized the DNA that's appeared in future films: sometimes just as I expected (WALL-E), sometimes quite differently than I expected (Star Wars), sometimes much more than I expected (Interstellar), and sometimes where I hadn't expected to see it at all (The Meaning of Life). I also was surprised that some of its own DNA came out of the sort of experiments I'd just seen at the Berkeley Art Museum. Look: I knew this wasn't going to be a typical commercial project. I did not expect how exquisitely straight-up weird it was going to be. Even knowing what I knew (which was a lot), I was not prepared. It blows my mind that, in 1968, this movie could be produced, released, and successful. As for me, it will have to lay in my mind for a while before I have real opinions. Next time it's on a big screen, I'll take those opinions with me and try them out.
Dunkirk (2017): My thirteen-year-old's been begging so I took him. Definitely worth seeing again. I found it more emotionally moving this time. And I'm just as impressed with the composition. Something I meant to mention last time is how excellent Tom Hardy must be to act so well with only his eyes visible (again), but this time I was even more impressed by Mark Rylance. There's something about an actor who can choke you up with what he does not say.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004): Still as wonderful and marvelous as ever. All I can say is that Jared Hess is the American Edgar Wright but we're too blind to see it. WHEN WILL HE GET FIRED FROM A MARVEL MOVIE???
Moana (2016): For a movie whose making was almost entirely led by men, I sure feel like a feminist now! I enjoyed this movie. Would watch again.
Swiss Army Man (2016): I'm not sure what to say about this movie. I certainly liked it. I certainly appreciated how it took apart some tropes and reassembled them into something bizarre yet familiar. Without the omnidirectional penis and masturbation talk, I might well pair this movie with teaching Frankenstein. It's definitely the sort of thing I use in my classroom. I just usually stick with shorts. Anyway---it's exactly what was advertised and yet still not what I "expected"---largely because how can one expect ANYTHING? I mean really. (One last note: Has there been any other movie ever to provide farting with such breadth and depth of symbolism? Everything from self-actualization to catharsis to friendship to shame to existential loneliness. Not at all in that order.)
De Palma (2015): I love movie documentaries and this was a good one, but no one was shocked more than me that the only De Palma movie I've ever seen is the one I knew I'd seen (Mission: Impossible). Now I'm even more interested in his oeuvre, but even less sure where to start.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997): Lady Steed graduated high school the year this reunion movie came out, and her reunion is this weekend. So! Time to finally watch it! It's not one of Film's Great Comedies, but it was certainly a fun flick. A couple questions (where are Grosse Pointe's police??), but overall a tight and coherent script.
Doctor Strange (2016): I was in and out some as the kids watched it, but guess what? I think we've found another Marvel movie that holds up to a second viewing!
The Eagle Huntress (2016): If you watch this, I recommend pairing it with its making-of because it answered some questions for me regarding the honesty of the editing (questions one should ask of every documentary). As the director points out, although, sure, this is a female-empowerment film, it is first and foremost the story of a dad and a daughter. Or---more correctly---the girl's entire family. The small shots of her mother reveal how much each person is giving here, even if it isn't a big, showy gift. My boys enjoyed this movie. And it's beautifully shot. Shocking to watch the making-of and realize how few people and how little money made this happen. (One caveat the film should have mentioned. Fuller version.)
Arrival (2016): This is a smart and complicated movie. It's still unspooling in my head. I can't remember the last time a movie's content and form were so well intertwined. The movie I think it most closely ties to is The Tree of Life---I think thinking of it as a more popcorn-friendly version of that film might be more useful than thinking of it as an improved Interstellar or an intelligent genre film generic. I hope to watch it again, to watch it with my kids, maybe even show it to students to promote another kind of heroism. Who knows.
Magnolia (1999): Wow. I think the mark of greatness is putting something together that really should not work and yet totally does. A movie that relies on coincidence? That's unrelentingly sad? That wants to be realistic but has frogs fall from the sky? That has meta intro and outro? That's over three hours long? Dude. None of that sounds like a good idea. And yet----what a movie. This is powerful, moving stuff. And it comes down to craft. Good writing. Excellent acting. Smart direction and cinematography. It's daring. And being daring is the only thing that can really, really pay off. Of course, being daring can result in absolute crap too. But that's why greatness dares. Greatness is willing to fail. Let that be a lesson to us all.
Trolls (2016): When I first saw a trailer for this I immediately determined that American culture had reached its nadir. Then Trump was elected and I decided to see just how wrong I had been. (Joke.) This is clearly a movie for people willing to set aside their cynicism. It's not easy. It's the plot of a feelgood animated TV movie from the '80s and an overblown toy commercial to boot, but all that said, if you can set your cynicism aside, it will reward you. The thing I liked best about the film was the creature and set designs in the world between the trolls and the enemies. Those were creative and willing to leave behind the tired sameness we expect of most large-studio, big-budget animated flicks. And now it's time to let my cynicism return lest I start scrapbooking.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I don't know how YOU define "favorite movie" but I suppose if I tried to think of a movie I've seen many many times and never tired of; a movie that brings me joy each time I see it; a movie that makes me tear up during a final montage; a movie that makes me laugh out loud every single time; a movie that took a song I've never heard before, played it over the closing credits, and made it one I love; a movie I will always say yes to; a movie I can quote all the way through---then Napoleon Dynamite might be my favorite movie.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014): In many ways, it was funnier this time around. Less concerned with what I know and with what I don't, I could just enjoy it. And so I certainly did.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966): I'm not going to pretend the plot is airtight or anything like that, but this is truly a great comedy. First, it's one of the best showcases of Don Knotts's comedic abilities. Second, it's generously directed with shots that last a bit longer than a more nervous director would allow. Third, it's generously written---a movie like this doesn't require added gags like ATTABOY, LUTHOR! It also has one of my all-time favorite movie kisses (but not a favorite kiss for the normal reasons), even if the age difference between leads is among the most ridiculous ever.
Ladyhawke (1985): This was our pre-eclipse movie and it was an awesome choice. Now sure, the music is ... hilarious, and the love story is so-so, and there are plenty of ways to dismiss this as a Cheesy Eighties Movie, but you should watch it anyway because Matthew Broderick's character is brilliantly written and brilliantly executed. I will take anyone up on watching this movie just to see him again. But I reserve the right to mock the astronomy.
Logan (2017): the first X-Men movie wasn't much of a movie, but it showed the promise serial film could have. X2 was one of the worst in-theater experiences I've ever had so I really have no idea if the movie's any good or not. I may have seen X3? I'm really not sure. And I haven't bothered with any of the in-between films before this chapter. And I wouldn't have watched this either except that it garnered such high praise from the critics. And well deserved, may I say. This is what I want out of my superhero movies: human stories. Superheroes are only useful when they allow us to see ourselves, heightened, not fantasy versions of ourselves. Special shoutouts to Hugh Jackman who was excellent, and Stephen Merchant in his First Dramatic Role who is standout as Caliban. One final note, the little girl is rather a lot like Wonder Woman---growing up outside the normal world and fascinated when placed into this real world. Everything else just goes to show how widely the flesh can differ on a story skeleton. (Oh: one more: the intertextual use of Shane was pretty bully as well. That's how they got me to cry.)
Unfaithfully Yours (1948): So I knew contemporary audiences were thrown by this movie, confused by its shifts in tone. But you know what? I was still thrown by this movie, confused by its shifts in tone. I laughed a lot in this movie. I covered my face in horror. I was perplexed. I was whiplashed by a sudden turn, then, when it looked like I would have to live through it again, I cried aloud, "No, Preston! No!" (Read a longer version of this review here.)
Tyrus (2015): This is a lovely documentary with a perfect closing thirty seconds about a wonderful man and an incredible artist. If you're like me (or the yahoos who run IMDb), you pretty much only know about Tyus Wong because of his exquisite work on Bambi. Which I love. But he worked inbetweening some Mickey shorts, and worked for Warner Brothers and Republic's art departments on many, many films for years. Besides that, before his movie work he was already a lauded fine artist and he never stopped creating. He died at 106. He lived long enough to be part of the ugly backstory of California's racial history, but he seems to have come out the other end only more beautiful. I'm very sad to have missed his show at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Their Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle shows were incredible.
Elevator to the Gallows (1958): I love how the elevator takes him to the gallows by not going anywhere. If he hadn't been stuck in the elevator, he would not have been accused of a murder he didn't commit. If he hadn't been stuck in the elevator, that murder, in fact would not have been committed. And it was the investigation of that murder that uncovered his guilt in the murder he did commit! Egad! This film is allegedly pre-New Wave, but it feels very New Wave to me (I disclaim expertise).
Fences (2016): This movie wrecks me, even when I'm watching it three times at once, spread over three noncontiguous days.
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