Feature Film: January2019


Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Finishing what we started last year, I finally saw the final Raimi Spider-Man. We never saw it because a) baby and b) reviews. But especially the reviews + an interview with Sam Raimi I read shortly before the movie came out. He was worn down and aware of the film's flaws (which critics agreed with). And from what I remember being said, he's right. Too many characters. Too many subplots. Lost control of the moral ambiguities. It's not a great movie.

But I'm rather angry at the studio. The skeleton of a good movie is here. And given another year to rewrite and such, Gwen Stacey probably would have been cut from the film and the chaos of Too Many Villains could have been solved.

The biggest error though, in my opinion, is the romance. The first two films made a nice romantic arc. This film messed things up without the feet for proper repairs. It was poorly handled.

I was surprised to see Kevin Feige with a producer credit. I'm guessing he was learning a lot from these movies as they prepared to launch the MCU the coming year Seems to have worked out....

The Thing from Another World (1951)

This jumped to the top of Son Three's must-see list because of Must See Sci-Fi. By some unlikely coincidence, I had just pulled a bootleg of this film from a free pile only a couple weeks previous. So: easily done.

It's pretty great. I'll admit it kinda makes me want to watch John Carpeter's even more because I can see how this set-up could be even more straining than it is here.

Some of the things that surprised about this film are the naturalistic dialgue, the well drawn characters, and the not-stupid romance. Some disappointments that did not surprise include the military men being more moral than the journalists or the scientists. But that's only barely true. It really gave pretty much everybody a fair shake. Maybe this is Howard Hawks's influence, but it didn't taste like a B movie at all.

In other words, it's as good as people say.

(As a digestif, we then did movie #1 from the book, Le Voyage dans la Lune, which he had also been asking to see. The baby did not care for this one. No doggies.)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Well, it's true. We should all hope this film has a huge effect on the future path of animation (signs are good). I also hope it helps knock down some of the remaining walls re what studios think superhero movies can be. This movie is just built out of innovation. And it's crazy good to boot.

Part of its engine is tapping into what Spider-Man means. Having all those spider-folk in it helps triangulate why we as a people feel about this guy the way that we do. The (spoilers henceforth) funeral for Peter Parker was moving, and each encounter with MJ was as well. The first intro to the character was especially fun having just watched the Sam Raimi films. And Miles Morales is now an utter star in his own right. As is Spider-Gwen. We will certainly see more of these two.

Also, as a note, the voice casting was excellent. Sometimes having well known voices can distract (nope, not Liam Neeson; nope, not Nick Offerman---ends up it was Nick Cage) and that was an issue here, but Jake Johnson's voice was so perfect, I don't mind that I couldn't figure it out at the time. Also, is it just me or does John Mulvaney's performance sounds startlingly like Billy Crystal?

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Finally showing these films to our kids! It's overdue.

These films are so beautifully made that I can see any moment from any film and immediately be drawn in. The pleasure is instantaneous.

Having a two-year-old throwing chunks of Play-Doh in my face, however, does get in the way of really immersing oneself however.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

I haven't read the books since my first time, the summer before movie one was released. At the time, The Two Towers was my favorite. Which meant, naturally, this movie was my least favorite (although certainly still favorite). Largely because I loved the Ents and what makes them entish is exactly was cinema is bad at. So it was hardly a surprise.

The film does sport Helm's Deep, of course, largely considered one of film's great battles. And it introduced me to Miranda Otto. I've never liked her as much as I like her in these films, but I like her so much in these films. So much

I'm endlessly impressed by these adaptations. And the effects have aged well, too. I suppose Gollum is "less real" than he would be today, but he looks terrific. Acting plays a big part in that (speaking of both Serkis and the animators), but regardless: these films are aging better than many of their contemporaries.

It's also funny, in retrospect, that this movie came out the same year as Spider-Man. Two films that had to solve the split-personality-arguing-with-itself problem. If that was the manifestation of our id in 2002, what are we now?

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Watching two of these in one sitting is intense. That's a loooootttta movie. A whole lotta movie. But it's quality movie.

It really is one of the great tales. It's no wonder an entire genre of fiction has seeded in its trail. It is complex and whole and moving and troubling.

Who does one wish to be? I suppose Aragorn is the most heroish of the heroes, but it is Frodo's success that matters most. Yet the troubles that accompany Frodo's heroism could not be more clear. Sam perhaps has the happiest ending.

My emotions and my body are tired. I am a sadder and a wiser man.

Imposter (2012)

I am only aware of this film because of Every Frame a Painting, this episode of which I've seen several times. So although it's been circa seven months since I last saw it, it's still in my noggin and my experience is a bit polluted.

Or, in other words, I was a bit too educated to come into this completely manipulatable. I recommend following Tony's advice and not doing so much as learning the genre before watching this film. Because the less you know, the more honestly you can experience what the people in this movie experience.

Which is a special variety of hell.

What is not much of a spoiler is that this film is about an imposter. A con man. That's not a secret. It's in the title. What may be a spoiler is that he may well con you too, even though you know this about it.

Watch it then watch Tony then tell me what you think.

An Honest Liar (2014)

'Tis this month's film group film. It's pretty good---all about The Amazing Randi---his time as a magician and escape artist, to his time as a debunker and icon. Which is all pretty great.

But the filmmakers lucked out. Because during the making of the documentary, his lifepartner was arrested on charges of twenty-five years of identity theft. And so the film suddenly opened up additional layers and asked new questions which otherwise would have gone uncovered, unasked. (It's worth noting that, methinks, had I not just watched Imposter earlier that day, my reaction would have been closer to what the filmmaker's wanted.)

With a bit of luck, I'll get around to watching this again with the subject's commentary.

An Honest Liar (2014)

Watched it again with Randi's commentary. Largely it repeated what is in the film (and thus we learn that he has honed some stories to his satisfaction), but it did include a couple more fun stories about Project Alpha and ol' Don Lane.

I most appreciated the additional info as to how and when he decided to allow all the interview footage to be included, although I would have liked much more storytelling about those months in his life.

But you take what you get, I guess.

The Great Dictator (1940)

When I told my kids Charlie Chaplin made a film making fun of Hitler, they insisted---INSISTED---on seeing it. And so we have. They didn't love it quite as much as their favorites of the silents, but they laughed a lot. Me, this time, again, I was terribly moved by his speech. And so much of the preceding minutes seemed utterly necessary in a Trump world. (Although I'm not sure he has the imagination to ballet the Earth; perhaps we can save that scene for Putin.)

Incidentally, you should see if your library is connected with Kanopy. It's a marvelous service and loaded with classic films. This is far from the first I've watched on their service, and I imagine many more will follow.

One Week (1920) / The Boat (1921)

Normally I do not list shorts on these lists, but it's rumored Keaton intended to combine these films into a single feature. So here they are.

(Personally, I doubt it. But it's imaginable.)

The couple in both films is Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely. She is utterly wonderful in the first film and doesn't get nearly enough to do in the second. But the second is just generally inferior. There are some excellent gags (the uphill/downhill one is amazing), but it's just not as good. And the constant rocking of the boat seems like it might make a body seasick on a bigger screen.

The first is the first Keaton-starring short released and if you have not seen it, you owe it to yourself. Our heros are newly wed and you feel it in every look and chaste kiss. They receive a prefab house as a wedding gift and ... it does not quite work out. Includes an early draft of Keaton's falling-house gag.

One more word about the second---just as I asked Lady Steed what the name of the boat was all about, it paid off in a nice little gag. But that gag was just set-up for an even better gag to end the film. A gag made possible by the lack (the lack!) of an intertitle.

Buster Keaton, yall.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I'm delighted to say it holds up to a second viewing.

We borrowed the screener from a friend because Lady Steed hadn't seen it yet and, well, we didn't mind.

Here's something interesting. I noticed it with Black Panther too. I am exceedingly hiphop/rap/trap/etc ignorant, but it works so well for me in film. I can't really go back and enjoy it after the fact, however. My pleasure seems to be moment significant.

If you're wondering, I haven't decided if I want to work on that or not.

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

This was the latest choice from the high school's film club, and I'm so glad. I was afraid aver my last viewing that the cg had aged enough that the movie wouldn't appeal to the youths. I was so wrong.

It just appeared on Netflix, and that version is not the same as what was released stateside over fifteen yeras ago. New subtitles, some changes to the translation (now only the coach of Team Evil says "cripple"; it's the guys mom having a baby, not his wife), and I think there are changes to the sound design and music too, but I would have to watch them side-by-side to be sure.

Something I hadn't really thought about before: the "illogic" of game scenes are following rules set by Buster Keaton. And that's why it works, illogic inclusive.

Sylvio (2017)

Put this on background, my last day of the semester. The seniors who watched it agree with my assessment that it can work pedagogically as I hope it will next semester.

I'll let you know.

They did say I'll have to warn the sophomores what I'm getting them into. I may.

(Previous viewing.)

Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

After the Relief Society discussed Cold Comfort Farm at book group, I'm told they watched the movie. And preferred it. To which I am appalled. The book is so, so good.

I have now rewatched the film myself. And suck it, sisters: it's not as good. It's just not.

It is pretty good. It has a hard time finding momentum, and there's some fan service here and there, but it is good. The Seth-becoming-a-movie-star scene was hilarious, and I can see how it's a movie that would improve on rewatching.

Still. Have you read the book?

(Also: I know she's twenty-two in the film, but Kate Beckinsdale looks So Young! I can barely recognize her.)

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

It's hard to say what makes a movie click. This has a great cast, fine writing, good music. I was surprised at the director's resume because this feels a bit more like a calling card than an established work and it's hard to say why. Over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and I'm giving it a thumbs-up too. But it's not in the awards conversation this year and it barely showed up in theater.

Why? What is that ineffable quality of ... excellence? timeliness? neededness? that makes one film great?

I'm not sure I've seen a bildungsroman before that is at least as much about the parent growing up as the kid. Really, it's the parent who hits the traditional coming-of-age notes, with the kid's growing-up a bit more subtle and hidden.

Interesting film. It has Ted Danson in it. It's not a mistake.

But I don't know that you or I will remember it come next year.

True Grit (2010)

Having just listened to the audio book, I have to believe that Hailee Steinfeld spent a lot of time with Donna Tartt's reading because they seem very, very similar to me.

My viewing this time began during dinner and was interrupted by putting the baby to bed, but I feel I can share my opinion well enough all the same. First: this is overall a pretty great movie. I like it. But it is a bit frustrating to watch not long after experiencing the book as it just moves too fast and leaves to much out. Standard book-to-movie complaints. I don't feel a need to explicate further.

The man in the bear suit they bump into---he's pretty much the same trapper who's in the stagecoach at the end of Buster Scruggs, don't you think?

Lotta characters with voices not terribly easy to understand. All the more wisdom to no contractions, I suppose. Although Brolin's voice reminded me a bit too much of Dax Shepard in Idiocracy....

The fever-dream final ride still doesn't really work for me. I seem to be alone on this. But that's okay. I'm often out of line with popular opinion on Coen-related poplar opinion. I'm used to it.


Previous films watched

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