Feature Films: August2019


Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

People must love articles like "What it’s like to watch Endgame if you’ve never seen another Marvel movie" or "What it’s like to watch the finale [of Game of Thrones] if you’ve never seen another episode" because Slate keeps publishing them.

Those virgin viewers, however, never quite "get" the thing they're watching.

I could have written that article for Detective Pikachu as I've never played the game (cards or video), never read a comic, never seen the show or a movie. But the trailer was amusing and the grandparents had it when we went over, so....


Now, I don't think it was a very good movie (I could go on about why I think so but) but I was never the target audience so I'll refrain. It's possible that with the sort of background knowledge I brought to, say, Endgame, some of those problems would have resolved themselves. (Some of them.)

I am, however, filled with regret at the time lost, even though I thought the animation was terrific.

Remind me not to be tempted if someone shows up with a Hobbs & Shaw dvd, reminding me of that I found its trailer amusing.

Matilda (1996)

I've never seen this before. It came out while I was on my mission and I just never got around to it. Even with its good reputation---even after finally reading the book and loving it---not until the final son read the book and kept asking to watch the movie did we finally watch it.

And it's great!

On first view, I felt it was a little long, but I suspect no kid feels that way and that I wouldn't feel that way if I were to watch it again.

I expect I will.

Of the Roald Dahl adaptations I've seen (a minority of those in existence), this is probably my second favorite after Fantastic Mr Fox (competition: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Also worth noting: the '90s extras on the dvd are fun.

The Blob (1958) & Beware! The Blob (1972)

Double feature!!!!!

I feel like I've seen The Blob before, my memory is set in the same place many of my I-think-I've-seen memories are set and it's in black and white, so ... maybe not.

First: the theme song is terrific. Why has this not been played at every Halloween party of my life?

Second: Steve McQueen and the other teenagers (especially the boys) are waaay too old.

Third: although it's just an okay movie, it's not hard to see why the concept at least became a classic. We really need a new version now, a family-friendly horror movie to capitalize on the slime phenomenon and global warming.

The sequel however is very very very very bad. The interminable opening sequence is embarrassingly bad and sets the scene for many almost as bad scenes to follow.

But I did like getting a sense of what the hippie stereotypes of 1973 were, and the barber scene, in another movie, could have become one of the great classics of comedy.

I'm sad there's no MST3K of this movie.

I guess I need to watch the remake now, while I'm hoping for, um, another remake.

Marjorie Prime (2017)

This film is so upsetting because it's just not good. The music is over the top and for some other movie (maybe this one). The camera won't shut up, always zooming or tilting or making other unnecessary choices.

And that's upsetting because the writing was fine (a little silly, but good---stop acting like someone/somebody/someone or hair/fur/hair are important, mystical bits of your genius) (also: throwing in one more suicide is not a daring bit of genius) (maybe just stop trying to prove you have bits of genius) and the acting was excellent. The layering was interesting but because of all the film's problems difficult to think about (I'm still doing the math trying to figure out just how old these people are today) (which is impossible---I'm sure this is "art" rather than sloppiness, but things do not add up).

In short, it's a campy episode of something like Electric Dreams with topnotch acting and a director with something to prove.

What a waste of material.

(I'm back to complain more. This time about the problem of filming a play. Yes! It's a story composed of people talking about ideas! Okay! You don't have to overdo the filminess in order to make it good! Sheez. Watch Fences to see how this can be accomplished a tad less egregiously and much more successfully. Although I'll admit Fences does have an actual plot.)

The Meg (2018)

Okay. This is a dumb movie stringing together a bunch of action cliches, but it was very fun and I have no regrets. Perfect popcorn movie.

It's not nearly as terrifying as Jaws, but it wisely made many, many references to multiple Jaws films. And other blockbusters as well. Star Wars, for instance---the Death Star and underwater fun with Episode I.

In short, if you watch this movie, keep thinking to a minimum, but you won't feel disresected as long as you come in knowing the deal is Let's Have Fun. It's just bright enough to keep its end of the bargain.

(Incidentally, we just had shark cake with a shark shirt and a Jaws game as presents for the erstwhile five-year-old who is the reason we watched this flick tonight.)

Bumblebee (2018)

When the teaser trailer for the first Transformers movie suddenly appeared before my eyes, that was one of the great moments in cinema. I've rather been so thrilled.

Then I saw the movie. And it was one of the biggest pieces of trash I've ever paid money to see in theaters.

Among its other sins, it cast Mark Wahlberg, had actions scenes that were utterly unreadable, thought urine was funny, was stupid throughout, thought fanservice was narrative, made me feel embarrassed for John Turturro, just plain sucked in every way.

Not even the appearance of Dinobots ever got me to watch another Transformers film. Once burned.

But then, when Bumblebee was in theaters and struggling sensible people were begging people like me to go to the theaters and vote with our dollars so the studios know that we care about things like a) plot b) coherent effects c) character. I felt an urge. But I didn't make it. Summer is short and there were more intriguing movies to watch, as it drew to a close, that needed my money.

Anyway. Now we've seen it.

It was okay.

It was still pretty dumb. Not in the fun way of The Meg, but not in the insulting way of the first Transformers either. In fact, although it has much less going for it over all, its fallshorts remind me of my complaints about its director's previous film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Although I don't think this one will improve much upon rewatching. Nor can I imagine rewatching it.

I do think Hailee Steinfeld is consistently good, though. I don't know that she's one of the great masters (time will tell) but so far she's been solid in True Grit, Edge of Seventeen, When Marnie Was There, and Spider-Verse.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

I'd seen the trailer and had hopes for this movie, but probably would not have seen it were it not co-written and -directed by a friend of a friend and had not my friend invited us to see it with him. I didn't even realize it had opened or was playing nearby.

It's good.

It's sort of like ... a cross between O Brother! and Napoleon Dynamite, but without any sort of satire. Which isn't to say it doesn't have its sharp edges, but I don't see how anyone could make this film out as making fun of anyone. That's not what it's about.

Although it's "about" some of the same cliches that have become a bit overpopular of late (eg, friends are the family you choose), it has an honesty about them that reminds us why such things became cliches in the first place.

It does have a couple moments of physical fantasy that are hard to place and the choice of ending is ... I can't decide how I feel about it. But largely it is a restrained and moving film, set in a part of the country we don't often see (and that won't exist in twenty years). Check it out.

Tell them a friend of a friend of a friend sent you.

The Dead Zone (1983)

I read an article about a year ago about this movie which convinced me I must see it. It was on Prime at the time, so I decided it would be an October movie, but when October rolled around, it was gone. The library did not then have the dvd, but, three weeks ago, I saw it on display in the library as part of a new set so I grabbed it and now have watched it. (Sadly, broken into three pieces, but that happens sometimes.)

The shape of the film is pretty interesting: the first half and the second half---almost of identical lengths---tell two stories essentially coherent and contained. The second requires knowing what happened in the first, but you could easily frame it as a sequel. That splitness is something I don't think I've seen before and it gives the film a certain wholeness, that surprises. Almost like an introductory first act become its own, fully satisfying film.

Years after knowing about the film, a year after taking it seriously, and three-quarters into watching it, I suddenly noticed the connection to Unbreakable. A film I've been meaning to rewatch for some time.

And, speaking of trivia, this is my first Cronenberg film (!). I suspect it's not typical, but it made for a fine introduction all the same.

And, speaking of introductions, how about our first view of Christopher Walken being him reading the final stanza of "The Raven"?

This is a story I imagine a lot of people are tempted to remake. This version would be abit more Trumpy than Nixony, but the risk of "promoting" assassination in this climate likely makes it impossible. At least as a large, theatrical release.

Dealt (2017)

I heard about Richard Turner from Penn and started watching videos, now including this documentary about him. His is an incredible story, one of the best close-up card guys in the world who, incidentally, happens to be completely blind. But to me, the real story of the documentary is how he, in his sixties, learns to accept his blindness rather than just shove it aside as he becomes more and more awesome. Arguably, one might say, the most interesting man in the world.

Somebody has to be.


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