Ending the year in cinematic style


Last year, I didn't manage to see many new movies. And the ones I did see were mostly mediocre.

This year, I did slightly better on numbers (more than double 2021, but still not a lot) and the quality was better as well. Nothing terrible and many excellent.

You'll note that last link is to Letterboxd. I haven't used it a lot, but I remain boxd-curious. If you're their, friend me. It'll encourage me to make better use of it. If you're not, it's cool, but do you have space for another social media? I'm not sure I do, which is entirely the problem.

Anyway, onto the movies!


Prime Video
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

What a remarkable movie. I'm going to need some time to mull it over. It does make me wish I was watching the Drieir film immediately adjacent. It's the one I've been trying to watch for years. This one never interested me, but it's the film-group film for December. And: no regrets. Fascinating film. Milla Jovovich is great (which thing I did not know or had forgotten) and Dustin Hoffman's appearance was both utterly unexpected and exactly right.

That said, her dark hour in her cell, while provocative, ultimately meant less to me than that scene as played in Martyr's Crossing. I do feel there is a place for God's silence and for the secondguessing of spiritual experiences, but ultimately, my view of Christianity supposes a God who accepts us in our flaws and takes the side of the downtrodden.

One thing Jovovich and the editing together accomplish is a deep sense of trauma. While people can debate whether this Jean is inspired or schizophrenic, everyone can agree that her life is lived between bouts of crippling PTSD. And she was such a happy child. (The girl who played young Joan was excellent; this appears to be her only film credit.)

Anyway. I know it's been 23 years, but what did you think?

our dvd / HBO Max
The LEGO Movie (2014)

This is the first time students chose this movie as the capstone to our dystopia unit. I was looking forward to the discussion and it held up. And it was pretty fun to watch with them. But I'm not sure it was the right choice. But, you know, that's okay. We're breaking for two weeks on Friday.

Read the next review too. They go together.

our dvd / HBO Max
The Matrix (1999)

This is what the other class chose and it was dizzying to watch them interwoven with one another. (Incidentally, my dvd player when on the fritz day two and students stepped up with streaming. If you were wondering what that was all about.) Because although I've read much about The LEGO Movie being Nineteen Eighty-four interwozen with a bunch of other dystopian novels, it plays like a straight-up parody of The Matrix. I'd seen people comparing Trinity and Wyldstyle and being able to see reality in numbers is pretty obvious, but there's more. If we're lucky, LEGO may've put some nails in the Chosen One's coffin. Ugh.

One problem with watching a culture-shifting film with people who were born after it came out is that no matter how well they may intellectually understand that fact, it still plays out to them like tired cliches. You know. Like Hamlet.

library dvd
Midnight Run (1988)

This movie kept getting recommended on the BW/DR twitter feed and so I wanted to see it. And now I have.

And I loved it! It's an excellent cops-and-robbers/buddy/chase movie but, most impressively at all, it took its time and slowed down near dead-center (not where you usually look for this sort of thing) and provided a truly moving moment. I think that's the part I'll remember best of all.

Just know, when someone inevitably recommends it to you, they're doing right by you.

Patch Town (2014)

I remembered the movie being in Russian. And it probably should be in Russian.

Before I pitched it as a possibility to my class, I doublechecked the language. Then I remembered an undercast (in things I watch) Canadian's in it. So English.

I'm still not sure it's good but oh is it something! Absolutely worth watching it.

With my fuzzy memories and watching it with fresheyed teenagers, I noticed that it has some humor that could be described as distastefully "ethnic" and fat-shaming, but those interpretations are so far afield from the movie's overall themes, I wouldn't want to dismiss the movie over that.

Anyway, it's totally sort of a Christmas movie if you're looking for one!

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022)

Son #1 is home from college and this is obviously something we must watch together so we popped it on and:

He doesn't know what he was expecting, but the movie demolished his expectations.

I felt freer to laugh this second time because I wasn't afraid of missing anything "important." And it was absolutely entertaining the second time.

I still want to know if anyone's interviewed Madonna yet.

our dvd
Elf (2003)

I made an effort to look at parts of the frame the director's not aiming me at and thus found lots of delightful details I don't recall from previous viewings.

Although when Zooey Deschanel is on screen, I just watch Zooey Deschanel. I find her a marvel.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special (2022)

It was a pleasant enough watch. Terrific soundtrack. Although when I say soundtrack I do not mean score, so this disappoints. I might've bought the soundtrack. But I guess I can look up the songs I don't already own one by one.

our dvd
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Not difficult to understand why this is a classic. While it's barely Christmasy, it does take place at Christmas and that means you've an excuse to revisit a favorite. Isn't that 90% of Die Hard rewatches?

Anyway, all I really knew is the basic concept and that You've Got Mail (which I haven't seen) is based on it. And the way it plays with point of view and dramatic irony surprised me. Is it gentle? Is it cruel? Who is the butt of this joke? Anyone? Or is the movie kinder than that?

It's a fair question. Just as our lovers should ask which version of themselves—or the other—is real. Should they be in love?

We're at the end of a depression and staring war in the face. It's dangerous to be vulnerable. It's dangerous to let down your guard, to love.

Take the chance.

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)

Note: there's a cool poster I could have chosen, but this film does not deserve it. Instead, this film absolutely lives up to its billing as one of the worst films ever made. From putting the ape before the horse to the sleigh's magical powers to the overlong interstitial Jack and the Beanstalk to the regular naps Santa takes to the weird choice of freezeframes and slowmotion to the lousy dubbing and foleywork, everything about Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is awful. I mean—who the heck even is the Ice Cream Bunny??? The film has no idea. It just seemed like something kids would like.

Highly recommended for sons one and two. Highly not recommended for son three and wife.

library dvd
Batman Returns (1992)

I wanted to watch this right after Batman back in April, but that didn't happen. Waiting for Christmas wasn't just a bad idea, however. Although college son, having seen The Batman, is deep into realism/gritty Batman. The other two are more willing to accept a cartoony archetype. And we get a lot of that here. Nevermind our pastiche of 1930s/50s/80s America, the Penguin and the Catwoman are pushing their fingers directly into your jungian unconscious. And it works, in my opinion.

If I remember correctly, I last saw Batman Returns on tv by myself late at night with the volume down after my family was asleep. NOt sure if I was still in high school or not. Not ideal circumstances but I did think the movie was good.

I still think so. I hope our next Batman reboot leans more into a cartoony irreality.

Shoutout to Stan Winston whose penguins appear to be a mix of real penguins, puppets, people in penguin suits, and, in a couple shots, pre-Jurassic Park CG—which movie came out only a year later. Good stuff, Stan.

I think we'll go to 1966 next, but the big question is, do I revisit Batman Forever? Even at the time I didn't think it was great, but it did have a powerful immediate effect on my psyche. I felt like a superhero in the hours after watching that movie. And Nicole Kidman did the single sexiest thing I've ever seen on celluloid. I will not have that experience again. And for the last almost thirty years, I've left that experience alone.

I think I'll keep leaving it alone. But, in the unlikely event the kids ask, am I up for it?

Barber Westchester (2022)

Multiple animation styles. Lots of chaos. The number of fingers a character has at any given time seems to hold some symbolic meaning. Science and religion. Both are fundamentalist cults. Lots of unclear queer subtext.

You know: indie animation.

library dvd
Mirai (2018)

"Mirai" means future, and the title in Japanese means Future of the Future, Mirai being the baby's name and sometimes the little boy sees a future version of her. Which is probably a confusing introduction.

(In French it's Mirai My Little Sister and in Korean it's Future's Mirai.)

Better to say a little boy gets a baby sister and has a hard time adapting. He has daydreams or maybe magical experiences in which he meets his sister as a teenager and his dog as a man and his deceased great-grandfather as a young man and his mother at his current age, et cetera. The film builds, each magical sequence allowing him to grow, and the final sequence taking both siblings through their family tree.

This is one of the greatest films that is, simply, about family I can remember seeing. I suppose it's also "about" other things but, ultimately, family is the subject of this film. The one you live with and generations that brought you here.

I found it funny and strange and intensely moving.

The Compleat Al (1985)

Like many an anthology film, although this is entertaining from top to bottom, it can still drag because the whole doesn't always cohere.

That said, it's loaded with funny bits, including one of the best . . . I guess it's a wipe? ever put on screen:

And on toppa all that, the kids have now seen all of Al's feature-length work. So that's one bitta parenting compleat.

A Unicorn for Christmas (2021)

It would take the runlength of this film to note down everything that was dumb about it. Because it was all dumb. All of it.

But my sixyearold daughter was absolutely delighted every moment. She jumped for joy and grabbed me in excitement. There were occasional squeals and gasps of wonder.

And, let me ask you: For which of us was this movie made?

library dvd
The Batman (2022)

He had to go to college and return, but son #1 finally persuaded his brothers and his mother to watch his favorite Batman movie. It was good last time; it's good this time.

That said, I really don't care who the bad guy in the sequel will be. Riddler and Joker? Hush? I don't care. What I'm interested in is that this Batman learned the value of family in his first movie. And so I want the Batfamily. I'm not saying that kid needs to become a Robin, but this Batman needs to negotiate positive human relationships. And not just Alfred and a rotating love interest. Family. That's what I want to see.

Someone tell Matt Reeves.

In other news, I'd forgotten how much this movie made me want to watch David Fincher films. Specifically Zodiac (which I've never seen) but also Se7en (which I've never seen through). But this is not a time of life where we can put the kids to bed AND THEN watch a movie. Which makes David Fincher films . . . difficult.

(The Batman didn't make me feel this way, but I'm also feeling absurd that I have not seen The Social Network, The Game, or rewatched Fight Club in maybe two decades.)

Moana (2016)

I love it when the whole corporate process really comes together and creates something intricate and beautiful.

Also, I finally (finally!) remembered to look up kakamora and this is what I learned. Intriguing stuff!

our dvd
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Beleive it or not, I have never seen this movie before. I was scared to watch it as a kid (monkey brains! hearts torn from chests!) and that was probably right in 1984. That imagery would have been nightmare fodder at the time.

A few thoughts:

1. This is a proudly dumb movie. It's excellent fun and adventure, but it aspires to nothing more.

2. The British Raj gets to be the heroes. Yay?

3. The sexual chemistry makes sense, but it's a darn good thing that character didn't come back. There's no future in this relationship.

4. Bummer Short Round never returned, though.

5. This might be peak Harrison Ford. You'll be interested to know his physique, in the credits, is attributed to Body by Jake.

6. This movie is for kids. Kids a little braver than I was, but in a real way, Short Round's the easiest character to fantasize being. This is a deliberate choice the movie makes.

7. Had it been a one-off, it would be forgotten now, but as part of the franchise, huzzah!

8. Hard to see why people were so mad about the nuclear fridge. Their fall from the airplane was comparable.

Previous films watched











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