June 2018's Feature Filmery


Rushmore (1998)

This will never not be wonderful. How can humor keep working time after time after time. How can it get more effective? Those are remarkable facts, and I don't know how to learn from them. Guess I'll just keep watching.

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

(Note: Peter Thiel and Elon Musk helped pay for this movie.)

(Note: I had no idea in 2005 we were still reading newspapers on screens that looked like scans of the paper. That can't be right, can it?)

I watched this because it is more than one person I trust's beloved film. It held up. It's solid satire and it refuses redemption. Sure, I wanted redemption, but if falseness is all you've ever been true to, how can I ask you to betray it?

Ant-Man (2015)

I missed much of the birthday party movie being a parent and working in the kitchen or putting the baby down, but I was stuck by something I hadn't realized before. Maybe it's just because I recently rewatched 2001 and Interstellar, but Ant-Man too has One of Those Scenes: 2001, Interstellar, Ant-Man.

Ant-Man's has the virtue of being the shortest.

(Insert your own unnecessary joke here.)

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)

Frankly, I was too harsh on the new Peanuts movie. Where it broke with the comics, it was in line with the films. Which, for all their charms (which I'll get too) are largely nonsense. Although Christmas and Halloween are masterpieces and several others range from good to very good, much of the animation just ... isn't that great. (For examples of mistakes, see "You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown"* or "Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown" or "It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.") That said, although this full-lengther has plenty of flaws (Peanuts should feasibly exist without parents; this world cannot; the geology/climate is utter nonsense; overreliance on the bully trope; Snoopy owns a motorcycle), it has redeeming qualities as well: The democracy shtick is funny. The throwbacks to earlier films (Thanksgiving, Christmas) largely pay off. Some of the art is beautiful (special shoutout to the backgrounds under the final credits).

That last point gets to one more thing I would like to say about Peanuts animation. Some people knock it for being cheap. That misses the point. All art works within constraints. The question is what is done within them. Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson did amazing things on their small budgets. And if all ten million films and tv specials weren't wonderful, so what? How many works of permanent beauty must we demand from one team?

They delivered a plurality and that is more than most of us will manage.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

When I first saw this movie, I was disappointed it didn't live up to the philosophical and political promises of the trailer. It's been a while since I've seen the trailer, so I worry less about that now. Although it's still a good action movie, I do wish the camera was a little more stable. C'mon. Have confidence in your actors and stuntmen. There are a couple characters who were clearly meant to return who either have not, have just barely, or I don't remember. Bucky felt less random this time. Um. I guess that's it.

Isle of Dogs (2018)

It's as beautiful as any Wes Anderson film and not loving it on first viewing doesn't really mean much (eg, The Royal Tenenbaums which is utterly wonderful), but I suspect this is not a great movie. Great elements? Yes. Certainly. But ... flawed.

For instance, not a single cat gets a role. They are just accessories for evil (not a typo). The interesting things attempted with language are a bit confused and contradictory---Fox's conversation with the wolf in Fantastic Mr Fox manages more with this theme in thirty seconds. Et cetera.

It's a wonderful film visually and auditorially, but not all the characters work and the story requires an utter love of dogs to function. I hope it improves on repeated views---I think the jokes will only get more wonderful---but the film as a whole? I kinda doubt it. Sad face.

[UPDATE: I just realized this may sound rather harsh. Only for a Wes Anderson film, friends. Only for a Wes Anderson film.]

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Brad Bird has done it again. This film is one of the best superhero films ever made, just like its predecessor. And it builds smartly on what's come before---both The Incredibles and "Jack-Jack Attack." It's hard to say after one viewing if some elements are as strong as they should be (for instance, the transparency of the villain), but the plain-ol' superhero aspects are terrific. Fresh new powers, creative sequences---Frozone gets so much more (and cooler) stuff to do this go-round. New favorite character: Voyd. Not just because her power is cool and used in an awesome way but because she's so vulnerable and in need of a mentor---and then becomes a mentor-to-be at the end.

But the real wonder of the movie is, as before, the representation of a real family. The Parrs are as believable a fictional family as any other in film history. And their conflicts and worries and fears and reconciliations are, therefore, among the most meaningful in film history. Come for the explosions. Stay for family council.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It's loud and aggressive and violent. But it does a few things well. For instance, the farm scene (which Whedon had to fight for) might have been my favorite part of my first viewing. And while most of my complaints that time are still largely true, having seen Infinity War, this film holds together much better now. I see the connections more clearly which made the experience more pleasant.

The cg in that first battle is still jarringly bad however. I'm not walking that back.

It's interesting rewatching a film like this---a film I never really intended to rewatch---now that the rest of my family is catching up. Marvel really is planning these out well, weaving a tapestry. Which is a deliberate metaphor. The visuals also draw on the baroque and medieval illustration and other unexpected referenes. They don't want to waste our time.

Incredibles 2 (2018)

I got to take the kids! Lucky Daddy!

The movie's great this go-round as well. My only complaint is a holdover: SPOILER ALERTS NOW

The baddy dismissing one victim as deserving unearned jailtime because he was surly and the pizza was cold. Weak. She should feel more justified. He should beat his girlfriend or something. (Also, as a nice irony, she accuses her brother of conflating superheroes and their parents while she does the same thing. It's some well formed antithesis.)

I still love Voyd. I figure Disney's salivating over the idea of a tv show featuring these new characters. When it happens, I hope it's done right.

Ocean's 8 (2018)

Before anything else, after the movie, one of the (all positive) comments I heard from the exiting audience was this: "Omigosh! It's part of a series! I want to see all of them! It was SO GOOD!" So maybe our take comes from knowing the 2001 film so, so well. (Worth noting: Ocean's 12 and 13 are also pedestrian.)

Lady Steed and I spent the drive home talking about everything wrong with this movie. And there's a lot to complain about. To me, the #1 issue was the uninspired editing, but what demands the most immediate attention is the waste of an excellent cast. This cast is so good! And I probably won't remember a year from now that Cate Blanchette was even in it. How can you waste Cate Blanchette????

None of the characters have much to live from. With the exception of Helena Bonham Carter, not one of the leads has sufficient backstory to be interesting. To go back to Cate Blanchette for a moment (don't ask me her character's name, I have no idea), what has she got? A cool punk style and ... that's it? Mindy Kaling is totally and utterly wasted. Her line "Oui" is her only laughline in the film. How can you underuse a comedic talent like Mindy Kaling? Rihanna's character almost got an interesting backstory when her sister showed up, but the film blew that as well.

The problem is the writing, mostly, but also costuming and etc. When you have that many characters, you have to make them individuals instantly. Rusty has food. Bernie Mac smiles. The computer guy has tics. The Mormon twins have sibling rivalry. Ocean's 8 didn't do this nearly as well.

The music and editing should work hand in hand. They only occasionally remember that they are what make an Ocean's movie sing.

I could go on. Our list is MUCH longer than just the above.

For instance! (Sorry, not stopping.) The villain in 2001 was a casino. Easy to root against. Here? A jeweler. I don't root for jewelers, but they're no casinos. (Plus: they're girls so they have to steal jewels? Come on.) Not to mention they Big Surprise at the end (a cheat and a yawn) that they also robbed nations of their art. Jewels are morally ambiguous, sure, but 8 fails to make that work. Why couldn't they be Nazi jewels? At least that laziness would have worked in favor of your protagonists. Sigh.

And the James Corden character at the end---probably the best-written character and most interesting per minute, but a) why is he a man? and b) he shows up when the movie told it was over---then it wasn't over---it just kept going. And it's asking a lot of even the best-written character in the film to carry a film that's supposed to be over just so you can have a couple unnecessary twists at the end.

Another thing that made 2001 such a success was unexpected choices like having these newly-rich cans unable to spend a penny of their ill-gotten gains. It's little choices like that that reveal the bold hand of an artist at the wheel.

In the end, what we have here is the failure of competence. Nothing is a disaster, but nothing's that impressive either. And pulling off perfection ala 2001 ain't easy to do. It's just sad to see it fall so very, very flat.

Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Yep. We were right. Except for the lazy Danny/Rusty/Linus/Tess bit of misdirection, this is pretty much a perfect film. Everything works.

It's just ... smart. And that's what Ocean's 8 lacks.

Previous films watched

jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec







Proud Daddy


The Big O just completed what will, in all likelihood, be his last-ever Little League game (he's going on a weeklong backcountry backpacking trip and missing the rest of the All-Star Tournament; if they win, he could be back for the NorCals then on to the West and the Little League World Series!). He pitched great. Eight up eight down, then a comebacker that hurt his catching hand. After four more outs (and no additional runners), he was moved to right field to give his bruised hand a break.

In the first inning, he took a bases-loaded ball four to walk in the first (and only necessary) run. The mercy rule ended the game halfway through the fifth inning, 14–0.

(He did bat once, after his injury, and his coach had him lay down his first bunt of the year. He almost beat the throw, but not quite.)

I was thinking about it, and since the post-season began, the Big O's pitching has been exemplary. The post-season is the three-game series to win his league, the Tournament of Champions, and the all-star series. The first series his team went 2–1; the second, 2–1; this one, so far, 3–1. In games O has started, his teams have gone 7–1. When he did not pitch, they were 0–2. Wow.

Keep it alive, kids! He'll be back all healed and filthy in just one week!

As an addendum, some words from his coach.

Not the top player in any tool, but in the 90th percentile on all of them.
A curveball no player on any team can see.
By far the best overall player in the league.
A really good kid.