2017: Tʜᴇ Mᴏᴠɪᴇs
fourth quarter


In theaters:

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): The music is great, the acting is good to better, the high stakes actually feel high. Plus, it's funny. Taika Waititi is a treasure. I'm glad he's getting an enormous audience. I'm curious what he'll do with his new cachet. The film was like playing with every toy in the toybox---not to mention some old metal album covers set up for background. Just fun. A bit more violent than I expected, but the kids seemed fine. Good stuff. The word we're looking for, of course, is badass.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): This movie is all kinds of fun. It even improved with a second viewing. (Although some of the best jokes, alas, spoiled by the trailer.)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017): This is a movie of many good parts. For instance, the scenery and train are utterly beautiful. They are also utterly CG. The actors deliver their lines wonderfully. But very few of the lines are at all interesting. These are deadly problems for a film that is supposed to be gorgeous to look at and that is filled with words. So many wonderful pieces. Pretty forgettable whole.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): Never judge a movie on one viewing, but I think this is the best Star Wars film since the original three. It was bold and dangerous. The acting was terrific and the writing strong. Perfect? No, of course not, but excellent. It calls back to the original film(s) sometimes directly and sometimes deceptively. I'm upset we don't get to see the film #9 that was intended for Leia (and don't envy them trying to make anything work for her at all), but this was her finest moment. I don't think I can say more without spoiling anything, and you can get spoilers anywhere else you like.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): The only flaw I can see is, occasionally, its relationship with time and distance (which matter, but that manipulation is what film does). Largely, the other complaints folks have I'm either agnostic about or straightup disagree with. Like Haldo. It shouldn't have been Leia or Ackbar. Haldo was the right choice. I have more. Fight me.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): Okay. I've now seen this movie in theaters more times than anything since Napoleon Dynamite (and I think fourth most of all time, after that, Jurassic Park, and Phantom Menace), and I think I can make an informed declaration that this is a good movie and haters should back down. Some comments (this paragraph may be more spoilery than usual for these paragraphs): Hitchcock said that film is the art of manipulating the audience's experience of time. Johnson may not be 100% successful with that here, but he makes good decisions. Absolutely Haldo was the correct choice to make that sacrifice and for three reasons. First, Laura Dern is amazing. Second, one of the major themes is whether/when it makes sense to die for a cause and her placement in that debate means her decision has a resonance throwing Ackbar or even Leia into that situation would not have. Third, Haldo, by virtue of being a new character, can be shaped to take this space in the way no preexisting character could. One brilliant aspect of Rey's rejection of Kylo Ren is that his pitch to her could, with very few changes, be lifted and dropped into the romantic climax of many a romantic tale. Even on a third watch, it's easy to miss how evil and manipulative he is. For all the brouhaha about women taking a strong role in this film, it's this moment that is the most feminist---in the sense of creating cognitive dissonance for men who think the world is already great for women. A lot of the complaints I've heard about out-of-nowhere plot/Force/humor moments are supported internally by the film. Here's a piece of advice for you: don't confuse familiarity with objectivity. By which I mean the only real difference, in Star Wars terms, between a walking carpet and a chrome dome is you've had forty years to get used to the first one.

Coco (2017): Not a top-five Pixar film and a slow burn in the first half and one of the climax resolutions was sooo obvious, but everything else about the last half of this film was lovely and brilliant and surprising and I wish I wish I wish we had a similar holiday.

At home:

La La Land (2016): I wanted to like this movie. I expected to like this movie. I didn't. I found it pretty hollow and derivative in uninteresting ways. The final stretch finally found some real emotion and the recursive bit at the end worked its way through a lousy start to a strong finish and an emotion that, unlike when it appeared in Cafe Society, actually worked. I think I can see what people like about this, but for my time in life, a rewatching of Hail, Caesar! makes for a better 2016 look at old Hollywood. Even if it is more literal.

WALL-E (2008): We checked this out from the library because I just took the Big O to see 2001, so we got this and Interstellar to demonstrate its influence. An having just watched 2001, I caught waaay more 2001 references than the first time. But WALL-E has waaay more feels than 2001. Like, way more. On the human level, it's a better movie. If you're into, you know, human stuff. No judgment.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017): Yes, this movie is shamelessly dumb. Just like the books. No, that doesn't make it stupid. It's not anything I need to watch ever again. I don't care, for myself, if there are sequels or not. But I'm glad this movie exists. It celebrates mostly good things (friendship, creativity, personal growth, empathy) most of the time, and it's so, so kidcentric that it will always belong to kids. They can share it with adults, but this is kids' domain. Proof that its heart's in the right place? They had Weird Al write and perform a song for the closing credits.

Boy (2010): Although my first experience with Taika Waititi, his Oscar-nommed short, perplexed me more than anything else, I've become a big fan. I count him with the Hesses and Wes Anderson as one of the most beautifully human comedy filmmakers out there. I encourage you to watch the first five minutes and tell me you aren't enthralled. The only equivalent introduction to a character I can think of off the top of my head is to Max in Rushmore. And it's just as good. Which is saying a lot, as the abbreviated version of that intro, seen in a trailer, changed what I wanted from film. And I didn't even see the full movie for, like, another ten years! Anyway, never mind that. Boy is the '80s in poor, Maori New Zealand. The Michael Jackson haka at the end of the movie---seriously. This movie. Hilarious and sad and ultimately redemptive.

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009): I can see why I haven't heard about this movie since it arrived on video. It's not a bad movie. It plays with B-movie tropes in fun ways and has some nice (if very 2009) jokes and voice work, but ultimately it's pretty forgettable. Fun to watch with kids. Nothing to remember. If this DVD hadn't fallen to us free, we never would have rewatched it. But we last saw it so long ago it was fresh to all the kids. We'll see if they forget it as well.

Kong: Skull Island (2017): The Godzilla that precedes and sets up this movie was, I said at the time, a dumb monster movie but a really good dumb monster movie. This is a really good smart monster movie. I mean, c'mon, it's still a giant ape, but the characters are rich and it wasn't easy to predict who was going next. It made smart callbacks to the 1933 original but wasn't really beholden to it in any significant way. It found the humanity in the ape we always believed was there, but somehow this movie made it truer than in the others (or rather the 1933 which I am always surprised is so minimal when I rewatch it because it is so rich when remembered, and the 2005 Peter Jackson movie which was the movie I remember 1933 being only ... not quite; these are the only two I've seen). Plus the action was expertly paced and always enjoyable. This is a great Kong movie and gives me a lot of hope as the so-called MonsterVerse moves forward.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): What a great movie! It was---SO many kinds of horror movie! Just one on top of another on top of another. And so wonderfully melded. Even though I split it into two viewings I was completely riveted. Doesn't hurt that two of my favorite actors play the leads, of course, but it's the writing and the visual/editorial conception that really make it sing. And such an empowering denouement.

Coraline (2009): This is the movie we played outside our house this Halloween (after the requisite four runs of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown") and I missed a big chunk looking at the scary houses with my beloved, but man. I should not have waited eight years to watch this again. Crazy movie.

Wonder Woman (2017): Honestly, I think I like it better the second time. Gal Gadot has a wonderfully expressive face (and Chris Pine ain't bad either) which is important because this is a movie that is willing to rely on its actors. I found the final battle less weak this time around, although it's still a little bit less than the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, that can't defeat how thoroughly satisfying an experience it is to watch.

Frankenstein (1931): I missed everything after Maria is brought to town to go on an Architecture Hike with my beloved, but it's worth mentioning anyway. Little Lord Steed is digging the old monster movies.

Monster of Frankenstein* (1981): I can't defend this film as particularly well made or even "good," but as a burgeoning Frankenstein flick connoisseur, I have to say it did some interesting scrambling of the mythos and, for all its half-baked moments and wrong choices, it still managed emotional resonance and some decided shocks.

The Wolf Man (1941): Universal had made a few werewolf movies before this one arrived, but this is the one that really entered our consciousness. Besides Lon Chaney Jr's look, there's also the introduction of silver weapons and that getting bitten makes you a werewolf. The film is weirdly inconsistent on some points, but those seem to be not the screenwriter's fault based on the late-90s documentary on the dvd. Little Lord Steed was upset by the ending which he found grossly disappointing. I was more disappointed by the way Larry Talbot was introduced. Hard to imagine that was ever charming or romantic rather than creepy creepy creepy. My first vision of Chaney as the Wolf Man was in Abbot and Costello and I wanted him to be that likable, troubled gentleman throughout. It seems like that developed over the films' run, however.

Nacho Libre (2006): I haven't seen this since opening day over a decade ago. I was very disappointed that day (Lady Steed loved it), but perhaps expecting Napoleon-like results was unfair (it was based on one of my all-time favorite shorts which I had seen many times, and the first time I saw it, I laughed all the way through except for a bit in the final act). I have since loved Gentleman Broncos (the other Hess films I have but have not watched yet---why, I'm not sure). But kids love this movie and it was about to leave Prime so we watched it with the kids today. It's definitely third place in the Hess parade for me, but except for my general distaste for wrestling, I'm not sure why I didn't like it. It's great! I mean, not great great, but fun and sweet and heroic and ambiguous. I think probably that religio-sexual ambiguity was offputting last time as well. Maybe it still is, but not as it was once. Anyway. We're good.

The Kid (1921): A long overdue viewing. It wasn't the kids' favorite Chaplin, but me and the missus were moved. More of a parents movie, perhaps.

Free Fire (2016): Lady Steed tells me a jumped a lot, watching this movie with my headphones on. I'm not sure if I liked this movie or not, but there is something very Ether about a bunch of badguys in a warehouse slowly killing each other. And I do love movies that take place in constrained places. (I seem to be one of the few people enraptured of Phone Booth.) There's a certain elegance to the set-up and execution here. Also, after seeing this movie, I now consider Sharlto Copley the South African Murray.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954): Twice I've had the opportunity to see this movie in 3D at a theater and twice I've missed it. So I said I was holding out until the opportunity arose again. But my eight-year-old reeelly wanted to see it (he's the reason we've finally started watching all these old Universal monster flicks) and I wasn't going to say no. It was pretty good. Like the first couple acts of King Kong. And the suit is amazing. I'm looking to see what Guillermo del Toro does with the creature, but a lots of what's here doesn't need to be reinvented. Keep the look.

Revenge of the Creature (1955): In most of the Universal monster movies (I think---haven't seen them all yet) the monster develops into a fuller personality as the movies continue. Most sympathetic. After all, in the first film, they come later in the film and are the enemy. In the later films, they're often the only one returning. They're the marquee. That's rather true here as well, in King Kong's third act. (Note: This updated suit's face not quite as strong as that in film one, but it's nice to see the actor can breathe now.) Overall, I liked this film better than the original (and I won't believe you if you tell me Jaws 3-D and Jurassic Park/World didn't take some cues from this film) although I should say that anyone wanting to do a vicious feminist / critical race / marxist reading of this film could have lots of fun indeed. Speaking to the first one, the romantic relationship would always have made me uneasy, but thanks to recent news articles, I'm better able to define just what's wrong here. And two or three lines of altered dialogue would have made it go away.

Surf's Up (2007): This film seems largely forgotten, and that's a shame. It's really a perfect, family-friendly, comedy jem.

The LEGO Movie (2014): The third act still drags for me---and yet it moves me as well. How's that work? It's hard to imagine anyone other than Will Ferrell pulling it off.

A Knight's Tale (2001): First time. And largely I wanted to see it because Chauser's in it. The modern medievality works reasonably well, though some of the rich chick's hairstyles date the modern half. The jousting scenes were great. The rest was reasonably enjoyable glue.

Boy and the World (2013): This is a lovely film. And it has a very curious shape. "Recursive" is the word that comes to mind, but that's not quite right. "Folded," maybe, would be better. Anyway, even though it delves deeply into sadness and regret and melancholy and nostalgia, the opening sequence's pure joy carries through to the end. I wonder, even, if this isn't a film that can explain aging to children in a way they feel instinctively but can't quite touch unless it's drawn in colored pencils?

Thor (2011): Having fallen in love with Ragnarok, the fam wished to catch up with Thor. So we got this from the library and ... it's no Ragnarok I mean, I guess it's fine, but it's kind of dumb. Thor's character development is a bit hard to believe in and the love story's rather absurd. It has some nice elements, but, well. It's kind of a whatever movie. That's all.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): A couple issues still, but honestly? I liked it better this time. Might it get better each time I see it? That would be exciting.

Thor (2011): It has its elements, but on third viewing, it's not a very good movie. The romance is straight-up horrible. The dutch angles and moving cameras are out of control. So many off details. But I love where Thor (and Loki) ends up in movie three. So I suppose I need to watch two?

A River Runs Through It (1992): I always knew I had to see this movie some day. For a decade or more after its release, everyone told me my dad looked like the dad from A River Runs Through It. But it finally happened because my son is a fly fishing nut. I'm glad to say he liked it. I'm a little less enamored, myself. It's awful earnest and although it acts like it has a plot it's really more of a one-summer picaresque. I don't see why the romance ever needed to get serious, for instance. Anyway. It was fine.

Baby Driver (2017): The funny thing is, by marrying music and action, it's less obviously stylized than other Edgar Wright films. Isn't that weird? Great movie though. Was making the hotshot pilot look like Han Solo---that wasn't an accident, right?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992): Although I don't remember the novel well, this film captures how I feel about it today. Silly. Over-the-top. Maybe less dumb and certainly sexier, but I like that this movie is so stylized and absurd. It's like what I imagine Hammer films must be like only much more beautifully executed. The highlight of MY viewing experience was, unquestionably, as the men were invading Dracula's London estate and I, watching alone on my laptop as everyone else sleeps, was suddenly greeted by the phantom head of my wife, underlit in blue, floating above my screen. I about died. Thanks, hon.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945): So people love this movie. Not sure why. It's not very Christmassy. It has, like, one decent human being. Great cast, sure, but to what end? It's awkward and uncomfortable now, seventy years later. I laughed, but as much at the movie as with it. But now I can check off one more holiday classic without adding it to my holiday repertoire.

Elf (2003): The strong parts of this film are exquisite. The disrespect for children's publishing and professional Santas is staggering. Also, some bits have aged quickly. Even with this film came out, the idea that everyone in town would be watching the same local newscast was ludicrous, but we still remembered that as a possibility. Now it feels like another world.

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979): Not a good movie. Don Knotts and Tim Conway do their jobs well enough but there's a lot of not-them time. And this has to be one of the most revolting shortcuts to romance ever. (Note: the lawman's performance is an only slightly less version of the lawman he plays in Young Frankenstein.)

The Invisible Man (1933): Sure, some things I would be less forgiving of in a modern film, but Claude Rains is so great anything that seems less likely is pushed to the side.

Lilo & Stitch (2002): Never seen it! Had no interest. It appeared in that era (beginning with Pocahontas and ending with Tangled) where I just didn't watch Disney movies. And if I did, I didn't like them (Mulan, Tarzan, Hercules) (notable exception: The Hunchback of Notre Dame). But this movie, which I had no expectations for, has not gone away. People still talk about this. People still like this. And so, fifteen years after its release, I finally watched it. The kids loved it. Wife said it's okay. She's right. The story has some holes. Development certainly could have been tighter. But it was fun and the core relationship (the sisters) was strong and, ultimately, I liked it. (Addendum: We stayed up late discussing the movies and it's certainly loaded with flaws. But I can see loving it as a kid. Sort of like how I loved the Fluppy Dogs.)

The Big Sick (2017): Just as good as everyone says. It's nice to see a romantic comedy that takes things seriously and goes a little longer but earns every moment. I wish we still watched movies like we did prekids. I would love to see this enough times that part of our shared vocabulary is lines from the film. After one viewing, however, I don't even know which lines those would be.

Cars 3 (2017): When the trailer came out, I went from utterly disinterested to genuinely excited to see this movie. Then the critics were less thrilled and the summer was busy and ... I lost interest again. After all, the first film was good if not top-notch and the second was unquestionably Pixar's poorest offering to date. But this one---this one surprises. It's weird for Pixar to present an anti-technology subtheme, but the issues of aging and moving from one stage of life to another are handled with aplomb. It's never going to make an AFI top-100 list, but it's absolutely worth watching.

Home Alone (1990): The kids wanted to see it. I figured anything directed by Chris Columbus will not hold up to an adult viewing. I'm happy to say that although I can see a few flaws I couldn't in 1990, it does hold up. It's a good movie. It's still a fun watch. Color me relieved.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928): Can you think of a better way to come up to midnight on New Year's Eve than Buster Keaton?


Edward Scissorhands (1990): I haven't seen this movie in over 15 years (and that was the first time) and although I do still believe that Tim Burton made good movies before he became a self-parody, I didn't really know what to expect. But it was beautiful. It makes me happy any time natural emotions are created by an unnatural world.

Young Frankenstein (1974): Yeah, it's funny, but I don't think it's a movie I personally can watch 25 times. I may need to pull the plug on this one at some point....

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): The first time I saw this movie, I was perplexed and shocked by how ... odd it was. Now, the third or fourth time I've seen it, I straight-up love it. The opening sequence is still peculiar (as are the little people) and I would still pay good money to see more of Elsa Lancaster as the Bride, but this is a wonderful film.

Frankenstein (1931): The pacing is so fast compared to modern films. That's not a terrible thing, but it is a bit alien to the youths' experience. Anyway, thanks to a shelter-in-place, we got another film in! I like this one fine---Karloff is terrific---but Bride is better.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): Lovely film. Improves, I think, upon rewatching.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): This was playing on repeat at the ward party, so although I didn't get to sit down and enjoy it, I saw several sizeable chunks of it and I can safely say I still love this movie. I just love it so much. There's a reason the first song I sang to my first child as I held him in the hospital was Sally's song. This movie has soul.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991): This was Film Club's most recent selection. The final sequence still drags, but the highlights of this movie are high.

Clue (1985): Don't know if I've ever watched this before. I remember it playing on a small tv over the door of the local video store and having it slowly dawn on me that THIS IS A CLUE MOVIE and I've seen it or parts of it a few times since, but straight through? Don't know. In short, I get the points of both the cultists and the original critics. They're both right.

Train to Busan (2016): This is an amazing film. There's not a lot of competition for me, but this may well be my favorite zombie movie. It doesn't waste time explaining zombies to us and it gets to third-act action as soon as they show up. Then it is unrelenting. Lots of jumps but ultimately not a terrifying film---a laugh-out-loud, yell-at-the-screen, jump-and-scream film. Nonstop pleasure.

Silence (2016): I'm glad I dared to watch this movie again. I wasn't sure I could handle it. But having suffered through the first time, I'm prepared now to see how beautifully it is constructed. Hidden layers in the sounds and visuals. And I was worried, but it was a great film for discussion. The Nineteen Eighty-four parallels, sure, but it also shocked my students out of their assumptions and let to really dynamic conversation. Suddenly, their open-mindedness tasted like closed-mindedness, and vice versa. A truly great film.

Ministry of Fear (1944): This film, made near the end of WWII, is about Nazi spies in England and a man who knew too much getting to know a bit too much. It's got plenty of twists and turns, and a reasonably affable lead and a gorgeous female lead. The way the man falls into the mystery is terrific (cake!) and there's nothing inherently absurd about any one step. The final line is pretty dang funny. Yeah. I think I liked it.

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