July's movies (coming in hot and then stalling out)


After last month's one-a-day pace, July looked like it might double that. And then...I started spending ten-hour days working on my First Vision lecture and that was that.

Anyway, let's get started, shall we?

our dvd library
Beginners (2010)

It's been long enough since this came out that perhaps what I expected from it today is not what I would have expected from it then. Who can say.

So I was expecting a light-hearted sex comedy, father and son on parallel pursuits.

What I got was chronologically shuffled and infused with sadness---the trauma of layered emotional errors over generations.

Yet, this is a comedy. This is a story of sticking with love and hoping for more and pushing through.

Plus, they had the genius idea of giving the dog subtitles. Ends up that you can do that with subtlety and nuance, and pull in rewards.

In short, I think I might love this movie. Though I don't want to rush into anything.

The Zone (2011)

Ah. So this is why so many people hate mumblecore. This movie, perhaps, was supposed to be a movie-movie at some point (perhaps), but then it turns into a making-of a making-of masquerading as a movie. The plot itself I don't think I would have picked up on without the brief description I read. I thought the meta-elements would be interesting---The New Yorker promised!---but no. They were not.

And apparently this is the same gag the filmmaker has relied on time and time again. He just added another layer of meta this time in order for it to count as something new.

Not impressed.

Doesn't help that Kentucker Adler (whom I like from Sylvio and is part of why I clicked on this) looks so much like the other male lead that, at certain angles, they really can't be told apart.



I thought I was done, but I'm not. My irritation is not yet spent.

You can't tell in this film if the behind-the-scenes stuff is also scripted or if it is actually behind the scenes. Were it a good, interesting, challenging film, I would probably cry out, It's doesn't matter! That's not the point! But it's not, so all I can say is, Who cares?

In short, it's the kind of art most of us made in our teens and twenties when we confused easier with better and clever for intelligent and naked for daring and artistic. In this case, as in most such cases, they are not.

our dvd library
Shaun of the Dead (2004)

We've now seen all of Edgar Wright's features! Time well spent, each of them.

I love how he uses the camera and sound and editing to tell a joke. I know this isn't breaking news, but I appreciate it so much. And he had it right from the start.

I should admit I lessened the pleasure of the watch for my beloved because, alas, I am a screamer. And I tend to scream more often at joke jumpscares than horror jumpscares. But it didn't lessen my enjoyment any! Why should I be embarrassed for leting a movie win? It's not a contest.

Amazon Prime
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)

I kind of hoped this would make me want to run. It did not. In fact, when she shows up at marathon's beginning my stomach turned with the idea of ever showing up at such a place. But then I was surprised to find tears pouring down my face those last four miles.

Still don't want to run though.

But the movie did more and tried hard than I expected, and I fully anticipated to like it. Even if it was about running. So. Nice job, Brittany.

our dvd library
Hot Rod (2007)

I liked it better than viewing #1 and I'm better prepared to say why this time.

First, Hot Rod comes out in the wake of Napoleon Dynamite and it makes a handful of very deliberate nods to that film. Without Napoleon, hard to say if Rod makes it to the screen. That said, they are fundamentally different movies.

Hot Rod isn't just about smalltown weirdos in a timewarp. Hot Rod is fundamentally, itself, a time warp. It's riddled with references and pastiches and commentary on multiple genres of '80s film. And while it has more emotional beats than, say, Airplane!, it is still diconnected from reality. It is, in other words, a movie about movies. While Napoleon Dynamite is a movie about people. And when it swings through a cliche, it's not mocking it, it's exploring the heart of that cliche---discovering why that moment became a cliche in the first place. Or, in other words, Napoleon Dynamite is a work a realism and Hot Rod is not.

Another distinction is Hot Rod is about adults and Napoleon is about kids. So while Napoleon celebrates innocence, Hot Rod nods at innocence, mocking it while innocence isn't looking.

In short, Hot Rod starts by claiming the mantle of Napoleon Dynamite, then goes on to do entirely different things. As someone who thinks Napoleon Dynamite is one of the great accomplishments in film of this century, that comparison made it hard for me to see Hot Rod for itself first go-round.

And what is it? It's a mess of jokes of all flavors and it's anxious to let you know it knows it's telling jokes. It is not, again, realism, any more than a knock-knock joke is realism. But beneath all the stupidity and bluster, Hot Rod has something worth saying and has found a medium to tell it in.

Now I need a BW/DR subscription so I can see what someone who's thought about it has to say.

our dvd library
Jerry Maguire (1996)

Although it didn't take the path I expected it to get there (BECAUSE it didn't take that path?) I really liked this. I knew the famous lines of course (the only one I regret knowing ahead of time was "You had me at hello"), but I was crying through their reuniting.

It's almost 25 years old. It's an acknowledged classic. It's in conversation with films just before and just after it (A Few Good Men and About a Boy, respectively, are the two I'm thinking of) and it holds up. I'm glad to finally watch it and I look forward to someday watching it again.

A Ghost Story (2017)

I was led to believe I could not watch the pie scene with my children in the house. It was not that kind of scene at all. I understand why people were talking about it, thought, and why the way they were. It was ... a lot.

But trim the pie scene and trim the guy-pontificating scene and I think I really liked it. I'm not sure---it diverged from my expectations and so that's my first-viewing experience.

It's slow like Amour or Tree of Life (and doesn't care much about what the actors say, like that latter film), and it has interesting things to say about love and the dead like The Sixth Sense. It has a frame shaped like an old photograph and it does new things with time and ... I liked it. I did. It just was not the movie I expected.

I hope I watch it again.

borrowed screener dvd
A Hidden life (2019)

The movie ended a while ago. I have been reading about the aftermath of this great man's life. I've read about his wife and daughters. I've read of his hometown's rejection and embrace. And little things bring me to the verge of tears.

When I noticed that Terrence Malick had dedicated the film to his wife, I said to mine, it is a love story, and I choked up.

I tried to read the quotation from Middlemarch that ends the film aloud and I could barely get through it.

I'm typing now and soon I will not be able to see the screen.

A Hidden Life is much a cross between two of the best films I've seen, A Tree of Life and Silence. It asks many of the same questions as the latter, but implicitly, while utterly different, it is the same film as the former. I hadn't noticed how adjoined they are. With both films, it shares a sense of voiceover. Most of the words in this film are voiceover---second place would be that that is inaudible or in German. It's almost a silent film, the way the words matter less.

Every shot has the potential to become everlastingly iconic.

And this is a film both about words' power and lack of power. Their worth and their lack of worth. It connects to Nineteen Eighty-Four, in that way. And Franz is the most dangerous man. The man who must be killed. Because he reveals that evil prospers in the swamp of cowardice and cruelty and everyone who sees his quiet conviction is convicted by it.

Who can do the right thing?

Can any of us do it alone?

Will we?


This article was excellent and brought some more questions to mind.

Is there a video of Scorsese and Malick interviewing each other? There should be.

In Seventh Seal also there is a conversation with a fresco painter. How are these scenes connected?

How is a marriage more than a life? I felt that as I was watching the film, but this article forced me to think about it more deliberately.

our dvd library
House of Dracula (1945)

This one's only an hour seven long, so I expected it to feel short and sillier. It didn't feel particularly short and it was less silly than its immediate predecessors. It's starts off suggesting Dracula will star in a Wolfman movie, but Dracula's real goals are...let's say murky. Then the Wolfman shows up (and Larry finally gets a happy ending!) and the Wolfman gets to be in a Wolfman movie, then there is a great twist and SOMEONE ELSE GETS TO STAR IN A WOLFMAN MOVIE!!!

So exciting.

Other bits of merit to this movie:
The violence in the final scene is probably the best violence in any of the movies in this set (which we have now seen all of), by which I mean it shocks, what matters to whom matters, it is effective storytelling (well, most of it) and it has thematic resonance.

Some of the villagers (notably the one who gets lines) have striking of the most striking visages in the series.

Another nice twist this film takes is swapping the sex and the ethics of its hunchback.

Larry Tabot isn't just released from his curse, he gets to be the hero. And the way he does is never underlined by an overexpository character.

The doctor/scientist character is something new in the series. You can see pieces of him in previous movies, but this might be the best execution (outside the first two films').
A demerit:
For a Frankenstein movie, the creature basically just makes cameos.
Random alsos:
I can't help but to wonder if some of the bits here helped inspire Twin Peak's Bob and the final scene of An American Werewolf in London.

The piano scene was funny, right? I mean---wasn't it?

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

I first saw this a decade or so ago at the insistence of the same brother who loves Brother Bear and I don't remember exactly what I thought but I do remember feeling bad that I couldn't be as enthused as he was. I don't know if the story is transparent of if I just remember it better than I would have guessed, but the identity reveals were all pretty obvious to me early on. And their obviousness meant that other character's inability to see them was a bit absurd. Plus, the time travel is incoherent. And it has some mildly sexist and homophobic jokes that must have expired by 2007.

That said, I do like the villain. The worldbuilding's pretty fun (though, unless I missed someone, there is exactly one person of color in the present and one in the future) and the chaos of the Robinson household is where the film really sings. And, weirdly, the final emotional payoff worked for me. I'm not sure how, but it did.

So maybe Meet the Robinsons is a qualfied good?

our dvd library
New York Doll (2005)

I haven't seen this in a long, long time and it was great to break it out of the case and watch it again. The film forces me into so many contradictory roles as I evaluate Arthur here and Arthur there and Arthur there---not to mention the people in his different worlds crashing through his space in their many different ways.

I'm listening to the album New York Dolls as I write this and I still don't like it much. I mean---I guess I get it, but that's all I can say. And so every time I'm reminded how important and influential the Dolls were it's surprising. And impressive. And makes me realize, once again, how wrong I am about everything.

Unlike Arthur. He, at the time the film was made, had no need to be right. He's found the tao. I admire that.

Amazon Prime
The Hate U Give (2018)

I started the novel a few years ago but didn't get very far because it was in the same first-person YA-novel voice that John Green and Rainbow Rowell and 90% of all YA writers seem to be using now and I just couldn't take it. And I guess my experience with the movie, though better, was similar? It was a bit lazy at times (eg, when cellphones choose to go off, its hamfisted colorblindness dialogue) and stumbles at times into the bothsidesism it's railing against, but, over all, I think it's a great film for its target audience. This is the film to introduce kids to these issues.

Which is why we watched it.

The Young Men assigned it as homework (the ward will reimburse us our $3.99) and Friday they're sending pizza to all the boys and talking about the film and issues of systemic racism over Zoom. This is solid church work, I must say. And a film that makes its points pretty clearly and has young protagonists is obviously the way to go.

I'm glad they talked us into it. Blindspotting is harder to show to the two younger boys (that's a hard no from Lady Steed) and its times of levity may not work right with their inexperience.

I have other thoughts about actors it was nice to see again and about how a movie so young can seem both timely and already dated, but I think what matters here is this: be bold and show it to your kids as well, fellow white families.

Amazon Prime
Galaxy Quest (1999)

I've seen this once, maybe twice before, with my to-be father-in-law, the summer he became as much, twenty years ago. The exploding pig nearly killed me with hilarity. We rewinded it and watched it multiple times.

Since then, it's gone on to become a modern comedy classic and "one of the best" Trek films even though it isn't one, technically.

And how does it hold up, in lil ol me's opinion?

Well, I'm sorry to say I did not nearly die of hilarity this time, but the acting is stellar (I mean: this cast---Alan Rickman! Sigourney Weaver! Tony Shalhoub! Sam Rockwell!) and the effects have aged into pleasantly cheesy (rather than simply bad, which is always a possiblity); it nailed every cliche making them fresh again; it hits actual emotional highs and it provides honest and consistent laughs.

What more would anyone want from a modern comedy classic?

Fitzwilly (1967)

Preface for these remarks: I missed big chunks of the first half putting baby to bed.

I think I'm over fun and charming crime movies starring criminals who are good inside and so I'm supposed to hope they get away with everything? I think I am. I mean---Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon are the leads and still, you know? I mean, the romance is not that much bigger a stretch than, say An Affair to Remember, but this happy-go-lucky criminality? I'm just over it. In part because the racket had been going on So Long. Detectives suck in New York City, I guess.

Which isn't to say the movie doesn't have merit. I like the retired priest, still devout and planning on hell, for instance.

If you like midcentury family-friendly nonsense, you could do worse.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

Me and the three-year-old sat down to watch this together and I laughed and laughed and each time I laughed she laughed and then asked me what is funny? I remembered it being very kid-friendly, but clearly there are waaay more jokes for people who can read and have a sense of comedy history and film literacy than for three-year-olds.

Every one else in the household was Too Good For It and didn't watch it with us. Not at first, anyway. More and more of them joined us. And now everyone wants to see it. You may see this movie on this list once more.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

I was not planning on watching this movie. I was looking up some other movie on JustWatch and it sent me to Tubi. But it wasn't on Tubi. It recommended this instead. And, for reasons unknown, I clicked on it. And then, hey, why not, watched it.

The youngest boy (with whomI've been watching the old Universal monster movies) watched the beginning and end with me and found it hilarious. And it is hilarious. It is dumb and it is silly but it succeeds at being funny, as it reels from one joke to the next with minimal regard for plot or logic.

The filming looks like video, it's way too bright, and the sound effects, though funny, are a lot.

The cast is great: Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., Carol Kane, Jeffre Jones, Geena Davis, Michael Richards---

I finally see why people think Jeff Goldblum is so sexy and Geena Davis---who has always been so beautiful---must have been early in her career because I've never seen so much of her breasts. I don't know how that outfit stayed on. A lot of tape?

Anyway, it's like one of the later Universal films because it's Transylvania it's mad doctor it's Larry [M]albot it's Frankenstein it's foreigners coming to town seeking truth it's hunchbacks it's a new vampire it's wine festival---but it doesn't take that heritage as seriously as, say, Young Frankenstein; it's just nutty, fullstop.

Previous films watched


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  1. I watched A Hidden Life two months ago and I have not stopped thinking about it. Especially in today's political and cultural climate where everything feels so loud and frantic all the time.

    I watched the movie Just Mercy with my kids for the same reasons as THUG. It's not a great movie (the book is much, much better), but it was a good introduction to issues of justice and racism. All three of them watched the entire thing and we've had some good conversations as a result. I liked THUG when I read it, but I agree about the YA-Lit voice (sometimes I think I'm getting too old to read YA because I can only handle small doses).

  2. .

    I remember reading your review of Just Mercy. It's definitely on our to-watch list.

  3. .

    Have you seen Malick's Tree of Life?