A Quality July


library dvd
The Mummy (1999)

After we watched the Universal original, the monster-loving son asked about any remakes and I talked about the bad reviews Tom Cruise got. But then, a couple months later, I read about how well this movie holds up and I could not believe I had forgotten it. We all loved this movie back in 1999! (Incidentally, I thought it was a few years earlier and a few things happen that I was sure The Matrix must've ripped off, but I guess just pulling-out-guns-emptying-them-pulling-out-more was just the zeitgeist that year.)

(Incidentally, The Matrix only came in fifth [fifth!] that year while this movie pulled eighth.)

It's kind of shocking how few stars this movie birthed. It's really just Rachel Weisz, right? Wild.

The movie is absurd in a very lean-into-being-a-movie sort of way and that lets us forget its nonsense because it's just trying to be a movie. And it does well at that. Remade today, it would be better at some cultural things but it probably wouldn't be nearly as fun. (I have no idea if any of what I said replied to the dissimilar 2017 reboot.) When quicksand eats a plane in the middle of the desert, you're not in any real world.

The kids were surprised by the CG. The mummy they thought was excellent and most of the rest of it they thought was terrible. That makes sense, really.

Alamo Drafthouse
San Francisco
Mad God (2022)

I've heard chunks of the same interview with Phil Tippett on KALX about Mad God several times over, I don't know, the last five years? It's always charming and fascinating and makes me want to watch the movie. But I've held off on paying for the pieces of the thing (these chunks no longer available). I've been holding off for the full thing and hoping ol' Phil didn't drop dead between now and then.

A couple weeks ago the interview started playing again except . . . he was talking about finishing it . . . and how he felt afterwards. Which was strange.

Only to discover he had finished it and it was in theaters.

On the one hand, this is about exactly what I expected, the sort of weird nightmare vision I know from a number of shortfilms. On the other hand, this is eighty-three minutes long and that sustained level of surreal madness is more Lynchian than anything else. (That baby did remind me of Eraserhead.)

If you can, make the effort to see it big. The detail deserves your attention.

Albany Twin
Elvis (2022)

This is very Baz Luhrmann but I also thought it was quite a restrained and respectful Baz Luhrmann. And Austin Butler was incredible. I get the artistic value of Tom Hanks's voiceover but I'm not sure it was a good idea.

Regardless, it made me love Elvis and loathe the Colonel. As, perhaps, one should do in a Faust story where Faust does not quite understand whom he has made his deal with.

Lady Steed and I diverge opinions on several points. I think this is the best Baz soundtrack since R+J. She found it frustrating. But we both agree that for all its merits it does run rather long.

As hagiography, it's thrilling.

The Bob Emergency (2019)

Another fascinating documentary from the people who went on and on about the Seattle Mariners, this time about professional athletes named Bob. Really. And it's a fascinating mix of stories ending with their extinction (or, at least, northern white rhino-level extinction).

But while the doc made me laugh and gasp, what I loved most about it was its concluding thesis:

There are no dull stories. People are full of wonder. No matter how you study our history, you will always, always find it.

Right on, Jon Bois. Right on.

The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982)

I've been wanting to watch this since reading Pauline Kael's review (she loved it). And now I've seen it. And while I've liked it (I would call it my second or third favorite Italian movie after Cinema Paradisio and maybe Rififi), it also struck me as rather flawed. Now, part of this is probably because of its vintage. I think something about being my age makes a love of movies from around this time not cool-vintage but cringy-agèd. Blame that on my own age.

And part of it, I think, is a general ambivalence for Italian cinema (example). Some of that may just be the level of professionalism (sort of like how Hong Kong didn't start recording dialogue while filming until a couple decades ago)—so while some of the choices can be artistic, some (like night that isn't dark and badly lipsynced singing) are not. They're just not done well.

But again—it's not old enough for me to find charming and not young enough for me to think it's cool. It's sort of a filmic corollary to Adams's Law.

AGAIN, all that said, it was a good movie. It's the story of a few dozen Italians from a small town trying to survive the Fascists in the final days and hours before the Americans arrive to liberate them. It's war, so terrible things happen and absurd things happen. The primary point of view is that of a 6yrold so we also get some warpings and flights of fancy, but overall it is lovely and tragic. The heights and depths of humanity, etc. And a much welcome new perspective on WWII.

If you are younger or older than me, you can probably love it without reservation!

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (2020)

I was reading about Stephan Pastis and learned he had done some Wimpy Kid-esque kids novels and they had been turned into a movie which he cowrote with the director, Tom McCarthy, whom I know as the director of Station Agent but is probably best known as the director of Spotlight.

Anyway, why shouldn't serious directors direct fun kid films? I can't think of a reason.

But this movie's a terrific reasron why they should.

Princess Protection Program (2009)

This movie was bad in all the ways I anticipated, plus some, besides. And I know it's not supposed to be realistic, but still. All the parts worth keeping have been done better in other movies. Characters change when the beat arrives, not because they've changed. That had to be the most sinking failure.

I've only seen Selena Gomez in The Dead Don't Die and Only Murders in the Building and I won't hold her Disney channel roots against her. The other lead seemed vaguely familiar and it ends up this is who Demi Lovato is. Did you know? I had no idea! Just knew the name. Assumed she was a singer. Maybe she's that as well.

library dvd
Last Night in Soho (2021)

Is it a story of ghosts or time travel or madness? Is it mod London or Hitchcock? The answer, of course, is yes, in a very Edgar Wright fashion. And I was glad it resolved as it did, even though that did make it more of a horror movie. But not knowing what genres a film will pass through is also part of the Edgar Wright experience.

Anyway, it was lovely and the cast excelled and, as expected, the camera and sound danced together throughout. It's just amazing to look at and listen to, even if the story hadn't compelled as much as it did.

It may have cheated a bit but with . . . this sort of thing, who can really be sure what they've seen.

library dvd
The Insufferable Groo (2018)

It's hard, watching this movie, to know what lessons to take from it. At times I would get smug but then I would quickly repent. Is this a positive example of remaining a child or an example of how insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result? Is he a hero or is he a fool?

Frankly, that latter question should be asked by, oh, 70% of all movies? But this movie never stops asking it. And it doesn't provide a clear answer.

I'll need to hop onto Amazon and watch a movie of his or two before I can decide for myself. But I'm a little afraid to know.

Because, for all the differences, it is a bit like looking into a mirror.

Century 16 Hilltop
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

I think this is a movie that will be better on second viewing. At times I just didn't know where it was going and it seemed drawn out, but most of those moments paid out in the end. And so I hope to give it another shot. I think it'll improve.

I did not expect the title to end up meaning what it did and that in particular I found worth the journey.

And I must say that the casting of the midcredits intro was so, so, so perfect. So perfect.

library dvd
The Thing (1982)

Years have passed since I watched the original and since then I've only heard more and more good things about John Carpenter's version. So here we are!

In a way, this is almost a sequel to the original. Imagine the first movie had ended unhappily. Well, what happens next? Could be this movie.

Not exactly, of course. Not all the understandings are the same, but a several plot points in 1951 are what the Norwegians were up to before 1982 starts.

The monsters have obviously been influential. That first sight of them looks like beasts we know from Stranger Things and The Quiet Place.

One great thing about watching this movie is the jump scares don't hit quite where expected and they don't precisely release tension so much as reveal where it'll be ratcheted up next.

I thought the "disgusting" aspect was going to be something other than it was. But it was pretty gross. Yuck.

Anyway, if this seems broken into pieces, it's because I'm watching the making-of as I type. Not the best circumstances to say intelligent things!

One weird thing about my experience specifically is that this 1982 movie, while the effects are 1982, did not give me uncomfortably-dated vibes as did Shooting Stars above. I'm not sure why. Your theories welcome.

Century 16 Hilltop
Nope (2022)

First, this was one heck of an entertaining movie. I enjoyed every minute. I thought it's take on flying saucers was a brilliant innovation and the movie never stopped moving.

I want to lead with that because I think the film has a couple pretty significant flaws. The biggest of which (spoilers ahead) is that our horse ranchers don't seem to feel much at the loss of their horses. I get that Daniel Kaluuya's character keeps his emotions inside but on this point it was tough to tell whether they were still waiting for the horses to return (maybe they had returned?) or they assumed they were dead or what. That didn't only seem off for horse people but it impacted our ability to follow the plot.

The other big flaw (imo) was the chimp subplot. (And not because the cg chimp was lesser than other, older cg chimps.) I get the thematic resonances, but the plot itself just doesn't make a lot of sense. If I were writing an essay, I could get into all the reasons I don't think it works, but the only reason for it I can see that almost holds up to scrutiny is to get us sympathetic to our former kid sheriff. But it'sa dumb solution! We would care much more about him if we knew, before the last second, that he has a wife and children—if we had seen them interact and how they loved each other. That subplot would have made the movie stronger. And while the chimp scenes have have been the most terrifying in the movie, they didn't resonate with or increase our stakes in the film at large. CUT.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure Jordan Poole is the only filmmaker with three or more films of whom I have seen all their films in theaters. And I liked this movie, don't get me wrong. But it's a summer entertainment only. While there are sniffs of Something to Say, they are much less aromatic that we saw in Get Out or Us, and the film at a whole isn't quite sure what it's about. And because of that, characters make choices we can't understand and have experiences we can't care about. The script really needed another draft. And that's a shame. It could've been great.

link+ dvd
The Fog of War (2003)

This film has seemed like one I should watch since it came out. (Possibly since before it came out—I have clear memories of hearing about it ten years before it existed. Perhaps I am remembering McNamara's book, but this seems muy unlikely.) I don't remember exactly what I was to learn. I thought maybe something about McNamara's monstrosity. But the film's not so simple as to turn him into hero or villain. He's a talented human put into impossible situations. And, at the end of life, he's learned something. And he wants to share what he's learned.

Of course, we have Errol Morris to thank for the intimacy of our encounter with one of history's great villains / desperate humanists. The interrotron makes the conversation almost one we are having ourselves. And McNamara's willingness to be open (when he is willing to be open) is powerful. And sets up an intense contrast with when he deflects or dissembles.

I'm not sure what I feel, here at the end of Fog of War. His lessons have value.

But are they enough?

(I feel it's worth mentioning that we're finally watching this film because of McNamara's appearance in The Post.)

library dvd
Masterminds (2016)

I think one lesson we learn is that, with the rarest of exceptions, movies like this don't do much box office. But they can become cult classics. And, frankly, I'm surprised that, to the best of my knowledge, this hasn't. You have a strong cast with SNL flavor embodying the SNL ideal.

But what you also have is Jared Hess. Now, I love Jared Hess. I really do. And here he draws a number of Hessian performances from people he hasn't used before. But the fact is, most people don't want this movie. And that makes me sad.

So I liked it a lot. Not a top Hess movie for me, but Jared and Jerusha didn't write it, so there you go. Regardless, it was fun and I would happily watch it again. And the most absurd detail (the name double) actually is part of the true story. Amazing.

library dvd
Heat (1995)

This movie is packed! Even at two hours and fifty minutes there's always something going on. Since it's an acclaimed classic, I'm assuming all the pieces fit together, but it was hard to follow how certain people knew certain things.

It was clearly a tragedy, pretty much from the getgo, what wasn't clear was just how tragic it would be character by character.

Anyway, I felt I needed to watch this because it keeps. coming. up. in late-night jokes and movie reviews and et cetera. It's a movie that, three hours or no, I figured I had better watch.

I'm glad I did. It's my first Michael Mann, movie believe it or not. Can't say I'm eager to watch more, but it was a well crafted film and I appreciated little details like breath fog coming from a chest wound. Classy.

our bluray
WWJD (2022)

I paid fifty bucks for this dvd/bluray combo ten years ago to help pay for production (look for my "name" in the credits) (and, yes, ten years is a long time). IMDb estimates the budget at 5K; I haven't asked Davey if this is accurate, but I can believe it. There are a few issues with (especially) the sound mix, for instance, but the film is great. Really. I highly recommend it. You can stream it for much cheaper than I paid.

I read the original play nearly fifteen years ago (I don't remember the exact date and, best I can tell, I didn't track it under my listed readings) but I thought it was great then. The movie isn't the play in smart ways. For instance, instead of on-stage doppelgangers, they make use of old film, and it works great. It had been long enough since I read the play, that I really did not know where the movie was going, but it's a satisfactory ride.

Incidentally, I recommend reading the linked-to pdf not just for the play written by Anna Lewis (movie) / Anna Christina Kohler Lewis (thesis) but also for the scholarly things she says afterwards about her play. Interesting stuff.

library dvd
The Lunchbox (2013)

Of the films we've watched this month that have something akin to classic status, this is the only one which, for me, lived up to the billing. I absolutely loved this movie. Loved it. It's a darn-near perfect movie. A two-hander, really, with incredible performances to the two leads—legend Irrfan Khan and new-to-me Anna Kendrick lookalike Nimrat Kaur.

There's much I would like to discuss about the structure of the film and the camera and edit choices made, but really: just watch it yourself.

Note: you won't make a mistake to watch at least one of these before starting the film. Otherwise the film's basic conceit might seem impossible. Short. Long.

After you see the movie, rejoin me in awe at its simplicity, kindness, boldness, and joy.

Previous films watched


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