Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Movie Status

I saw 35 new movies in the month of July, plus 1 movie re-watch, plus 2 shorts, plus 4 TV show seasons.  My number of movies was down considerably for one big reason: I completed the entire 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.  You can read more about that in this post.  After that I was kind of burnt out and took a break from watching most movies.  I’ve had some Netflix DVDs sitting on my coffee table for weeks.  I definitely didn’t get my money’s worth from them this month.  What I mostly did after completing that goal was re-watch all four seasons of the TV show Castle that I own on DVD, and re-read the novels that have been published in conjunction with it.

Siobhan – have you finished watching season 4 of Castle?  If not, have you at least made it to the Blue Butterfly 1940s noir episode?

Because of completing the 1,001 Movies I don’t really have a concrete goal for August.  I am still working on the Oscar Best Picture nominees.  I have a few of the 2013 Big Summer Movies left to see for either review or comment.  I added into my Netflix queue some entries from other movies lists (ones I mentioned in the 1,001 Movies post I linked to above), but they may or may not be sent to me in August depending on how fast I start watching those disks again.  I might re-watch some or all of Castle Season 5 rather than wait for it to be released on DVD in late September.  I might re-watch more movies that I’ve been wanting to get to for some time.

Here are the 35 new movies I saw in July.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

1,001 Movies (22): The Young One (1960), Black Sunday (1960), Mondo Cane (1962), Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), Shock Corridor (1963), Onibaba (1964), Point Blank (1967), Closely Watched Trains (1967), If… (1968), Zabriskie Point (1970), Walkabout (1971), Murmur of the Heart (1971), Straw Dogs (1971), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Pink Flamingos (1972), The Harder They Come (1973), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Five Deadly Venoms (1978), The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), The Decalogue (1989)

Oscar Nominees (1): Three Smart Girls (1936)

Other Movies (14): Hysteria (2012), Something in the Wind (1947), The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), Damsels in Distress (2012), Turn Me On, Dammit! (2012), Despicable Me 2 (2013), World War Z (2013), A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894) – short, Rip Van Winkle (1896) – short, Nine for IX: Pat XO (2013), Pacific Rim (2013), The Lone Ranger (2013), Movie 43 (2013)

Re-watches (1): The Hunt for Red October (1990)

TV Series (4):  Castle: Seasons 1-4 (re-watches)

I had no five star films in July.  My four star films were Hysteria (2012) and Turn Me On, Dammit! (2012).  The Decalogue (1989) had some individual episodes that would be at least a four star rating, but as an overall entity I gave it a 3.5 star rating.

Hysteria is a funny, fun film about the invention of the electric vibrator as a treatment for women's hysteria in 1880 England.  As the movie says at the beginning: "The following is based on true events.  Really."  Doctors actually did prescribe a "pelvic massage" procedure which would continue until they had "induced paroxysms" in the woman.  As you might expect, the female patients decided that these treatments would need to be repeated on a regular basis.  What's a doctor to do when he has so many patients that he develops a permanent cramp in his hand?

Turn Me On, Dammit! is a very good movie with a terrible name.  The title makes it sound like some kind of cheap softcore movie.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  In actuality this Norwegian film is a bittersweet tale of a teen girl in a small town in Norway who's sure that her constant thoughts about sex make her some kind of freak.  There are some obvious parallels with the Swedish film Fucking Amal (aka Show Me Love), although not in regards to lesbianism.  I didn't even realize that the cast was mostly non-professional performers, including the lead, until I saw an interview with the writer/director.  Everyone did quite a good job on this.

The 1,001 Movies list was always reliable for providing me with at least one 1 star movie every month.  It’s only fitting that it still delivers one final time.

Yes, I knew about the infamous dog shit eating scene in Pink Flamingos (1972) before I watched this.  I was prepared to endure it as well as could be expected.  I didn't know about the scene where a guy shows us he can turn his anus inside out, however. Nor did I know about the scene where a chicken really gets crushed to death between a man and a woman during a simulated rape.  In comparison, the unsimulated blowjob scene and the subplot where women are kidnapped, impregnated, and their babies sold, seem almost mainstream.  For what it's worth, I've liked every other John Waters film I've seen, but those have all been his later films.  This one is not worth seeing at all unless it's on a list you are trying to complete, or you just want to see if it really is as shocking as its reputation makes it out to be.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Movie – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

In the early 1950s when Walt Disney (the man, not the studio) saw some footage his photographers had shot of underwater scenes in anamorphic widescreen he decided to make an entire live action film to take advantage of the stunning presentation – a first for his studio.  And what better story to film for this than the classic 1870 Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?  Two prior versions had been filmed, but both were in the early 1900s so they were limited in what they could show.  Disney’s version would be the first to take advantage of what studios could do with modern technology.  This was only Disney’s fifth live action movie ever yet it is still remembered today as one of the best produced by the studio.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Movie and Book – The Hunt for Red October (1990)

While flipping through channels on the TV do you ever find yourself stopping to watch a movie that you’ve already seen, even if you own it on DVD?  The Hunt for Red October is one of those movies for me.  I couldn’t count how many times I’ve stopped and watched whatever scene is playing, at least until the next commercial break.  Sometimes it even prompts me to get out the DVD and watch it again from the beginning.  Someday I will do a category of those kinds of movies for me (hint: Groundhog Day is another.)  Just as Das Boot is clearly the best submarine movie ever made, in my opinion, so too is The Hunt for Red October clearly the second best submarine movie ever made.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Movie – Das Boot (1981)

The best way to start my Submarine Movies category is with by far the best submarine film ever made – Das Boot.  I consider it not only the best sub movie ever made, but the best war movie ever made, too.  It is a German film (the title translates as “The Boat”) and it easily stands as one of the very best films to ever come from that country.  I would have a hard time picking between it and M (1931) as the best, quite frankly.  That means it is also one of the very best non-English language films ever made – definitely in the top ten, quite possibly in the top five.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Submarine Movies

“Who’s the U-boat commander?” – Service Manager, Risky Business

Those who have seen the movie Risky Business (1983) will recognize that quote and probably smile in remembrance of what it accompanies.  Those who have not seen the film, should.  I won’t spoil this moment for you by explaining the humor; you should see it in the context of the movie.

The concept of a submarine has been around for centuries.  As far back as the American Revolutionary War the U.S. military used an experimental craft named the Acorn that could travel under the surface of the water.  It was used to attack the HMS Eagle, the flagship of the British Navy in 1776.  Around fifteen years ago a forgotten piece of history - an American Civil War Confederate States submarine named the Hunley – was found, recovered, and researched.  It was the first submarine to ever successfully sink a naval military ship, although it also sank before it could return.  A few years later in 1870 Jules Verne wrote the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea about Captain Nemo and his fantastic submarine The Nautilus.

When most people hear the words “submarine movie”, though, it probably brings to mind one of two things: Cold War subs with nuclear missiles pointed at the enemy, or WWII subs playing cat and mouse with enemy ships.  While I will certainly have at least one film fitting each of those descriptions, there are other kinds of submarine movies that are well worth seeing, including some that have nothing at all to do with war, some that are funny, and some that don’t even take place in a body of water.

I will not be including films that happen to have a submarine in them, like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), or even movies like 1941 (1979) which have submarines in subplots.  For the purposes of this category, “submarine movie” will be one where the large majority of the events take place on a sub and/or because of a sub.

As always, to post a review of a film here I have to like it enough to recommend it to others (at least 3 stars out of 5).  This means if you were looking forward to a review of Down Periscope (1996) then I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed.

On another note: you might be able to help me.  When brainstorming what movies to include in this category I noticed that I had nothing newer than 2002, and it’s a film I’ve already posted a review of in another category (K-19: The Widowmaker).  Have you seen a good submarine film made in the last ten years or so?  In addition, I’ve never seen Yellow Submarine (1968).  I’ve seen both A Hard Days Night (1964) and Help! (1965).  I loved the music in them, of course, but found the jokes to be purely for kids.  I know I’d like the music in Yellow Submarine, but is the humor in it more of the same, just animated?

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) – (posted October 31, 2011)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) – (posted April 6, 2012)

On to the reviews…

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hike – Pemetic Mountain, East Cliff Trail, Pemetic Northwest Trail, Jordan Pond Carry Trail, Jordan Pond Trail

The Bubbles as seen from the start of this hike
There are many trails that start from the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park in Maine.  This post describes one of the more popular ones.  It is a loop hike starting and ending at the Jordan Pond House that will traverse Pemetic Mountain from southeast to northwest then return along the shores of Jordan Pond.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Update on the 2013 Big Summer Movies

I had expected to be posting a review of either The Lone Ranger or Pacific Rim today, but I found that neither movie was good enough for me to recommend it to others.  I decided to do an update on which of the 2013 big summer movies I have and have not recommended so far, for those of you who have not been referring to my parent post that contains all of these.

Here are the films that appeared to be the biggest ones coming at the start of May:

Iron Man 3 – May 3rd
Fast & Furious 6 – May 24th
The Hangover Part III – May 24th
After Earth – May 31st
Man of Steel – June 14th
Monsters University – June 21st
World War Z – June 21st
Despicable Me 2 – July 3rd
The Lone Ranger – July 3rd
Pacific Rim – July 12th
The Wolverine – July 26th
Elysium – August 9th
Kick-Ass 2 – August 16th

(=Not yet released)

The ones I have recommended so far have links in the names that will take you to my full reviews of them.  For the rest I have shorter comments that you can find below.

Title:  The Hangover Part III

I thought the first one was hilarious and the second one okay.  I literally did not laugh once during this entire third movie.  There are some attempts at humor, but they fall flat.  Instead they try to focus more on the adventures the guys get into, but those really don't hold much entertainment or suspense in them.  This is just an all around not very good movie.  Of all the ones I have seen so far, this is the worst movie of the summer.

Title:  After Earth

This movie is not as horrible as you may have heard.  Much of that is backlash against M. Night Shyamalan in general, and against Will Smith trying to push his son on the movie-going public in particular.  People expecting to see a "Will Smith movie" instead get a "Jaden Smith movie".  The son is the star and Will just speaks instructions to him. 

Unfortunately, Will Smith seems to see his fearless military leader character as someone who would speak and act like a robot and Jaden just doesn't have the acting skills yet to carry a movie as the lead.  This isn't a bad movie plot-wise, but there's just not enough there to recommend it.

Title:  World War Z

The plot was okay up until it reaches the point where they apparently decided to completely change things and head to Wales. From that point on it was completely nonsensical. Combine this with the fact that another director has been infected with the shakycam virus and most of the action scenes were impossible to follow. Making matters worse is that three major action scenes are shot in very low light, combined with shakycam, just to make sure you can't see what is happening.  

There is an unintentional laugh out loud moment when Pitt, right in the midst of dodging zombies, stops to get a can of cold refreshing Pepsi out of a vending machine – perhaps the single most blatant product placement in a movie where the filmmakers were not winking about the product placement.

This film is trying really, really hard to be 28 Days Later, but it ends up being 28 Weeks Later.

Title: The Lone Ranger

There is a very good action sequence involving two trains at the climax of the movie. Unfortunately, it takes two hours to get to that point and it's about the only thing positive I can say about the film.

Most of the attempts at humor do not work and pretty much every single white man in the film is evil, for no other apparent reason than that they are white men. The one that isn't (the title character) is an idiot. A few other white men who have not yet had a chance to show how they are evil are quickly killed. Every single Indian, Chinese, and black man, however, is noble, brave, and good, all while being betrayed, beaten, and killed by white men. Gee, I wonder why this movie failed at the box office in a country whose large majority of the population is white?

Oh, and Depp simply plays Capt. Jack Sparrow again, just with a "me big heap Indian" accent.

Title:  Pacific Rim

This movie is really silly. In fact, it actually moves into the "so bad it's good" territory for large stretches. I was laughing at several scenes in this film (and not the few that were supposed to be funny.)

A bunch of giant monsters come out of a trench in the ocean so mankind's response is to build 300 foot tall robots to punch them really, really hard? I knew this going in, of course, but I was hoping it would entertain my inner 8 year old boy. Even an 8 year old was rolling his eyes at this.

They say at the beginning that planes, tanks, AND MISSILES (my emphasis) took six days to stop the first monster. As the movie shows, though, pretty much anything can stop them - except being punched by a giant robot. After eventually giving up on the punching, the robots kill them by electrocution, swords, bombs, and...wait for it...missiles launched from the robots.

Another solution is to build massive walls around tens of thousands of miles of Pacific coastline to keep the monsters out...instead of building a thousand feet of wall cap over the trench they are coming out of?  And mankind waits for the monsters to approach shore and destroy cities before trying to stop them instead of just positioning defenses right outside the trench the monsters are coming out of?

But maybe there's a good human angle to the film? Nope. Every character is either bland or an asshole, except for the Japanese pilot played by Rinko Kikuchi, who was also the best thing about 2006's Babel.  The CGI is good, but you don't get to enjoy it much since almost all of the major action scenes take place at night and/or in the rain/water so you can't see much of what is going on.

Pacific Rim is this summer's Battleship - big, loud, incredibly stupid...and unintentionally funny in so many places that you may still enjoy yourself. If you must see it I'd wait and rent it for a buck when it comes to DVD.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie – Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

In the fall of 1982 I was a barely 18 year old incoming college Freshman.  The very first night all the students were there the drug dealer on our floor gathered all of us together in his room.  We shot the shit for a while then he whipped out some pot.  He’d let us smoke that night for free.  (All part of creating a market for his product – this was a business school after all).  None of us were brave enough to be the first to get up and walk out, but only one of us was weak enough to smoke his pot.  With his lack of success the dealer started badgering us all the next day about another party.  This time we knew it would be more of a hard sell and a bunch of us wanted no part of it.  We decided to get off campus that evening and in this small town about the only thing we could agree on was to see a movie.  Only one of us had a car so seven guys all piled into it.  The car could comfortably hold two and realistically hold four, but we made it there and back, although probably not legally.  The movie we decided to see was one none of us had heard of, but that looked like fun: Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  It was HUGE.  We talked about it all the way home and were still quoting it weeks later.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movie – S.F.W. (1994)

The title “S.F.W.” stands for “so fucking what”, the unintended catchphrase of the main character of the film.  Obviously the studios couldn’t put the full title on posters, in print ads, or in TV trailers, so they abbreviated it, much like the more recent Canadian film YPF (2007) where the first two letters stood for “young people”.  S.F.W is a biting satire on the media and instant celebrity, as well as anticipating the rise of “reality” shows.  For 1994 it was WAY ahead of its time.  While I would not compare it to 1976’s Network in terms of quality, the two are certainly twins in how the things in the movies that appeared to be insanely over the top when they came out have come true in the years since then.  S.F.W. is also the first film in which I ever saw Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Movie – Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Anyone who saw the 2010 surprise summer hit Despicable Me knew that there had to be a sequel coming.  Sometimes that can be a good thing (i.e. Toy Story 2 and 3) and sometimes that can be a bad thing (i.e. Hoodwinked 2).  In this case Despicable Me 2 returns all the things that made the first one fun.  This includes the little yellow Minions getting into all kinds of trouble and mischief.  They are so popular that I’ve even read that there is a Minions movie being planned.  (Watch during the credits for something related to this.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Movie – Something Wild (1986)

Something Wild holds a number of firsts for me.  It was the first movie in which I ever saw Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Gettysburg), Melanie Griffith (Working Girl), and Ray Liotta (Goodfellas).  It was the first film directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) that I ever saw.  The film contained songs from a number of bands that I was hearing for the first time.  I can’t be positive, since it was more than 25 years ago, but I believe that this film is the first one for which I ever bought the CD soundtrack.  I still own it.  I took it off the shelf and I’m listening to it as I write this.

This film was not always easy to find.  It did get issued on DVD in the early days of the medium, but that disk went out of print.  Thankfully, Criterion recently bought the rights to the film and released it on both DVD and Blu-ray.  They also added a bunch of new content.  Even though I own the original DVD, it doesn’t have those extras on it so I have thought about getting the Criterion edition.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Video – Troops Coming Home and Surprising Their Families

I saw this video on TV over the last weekend and I thought it was just terrific.  It is a montage of military members surprising their children, spouses, and parents that they are home.  I don’t care what you may think of the military; this is about human beings.  I try not to judge people I haven’t met, but if you are completely unmoved by this video then you must be dead inside.

Monday, July 1, 2013

June Movie Status

I saw 73 new movies in the month of June, plus 2 movie re-watches, plus 2 TV show seasons.  Not counting The Decalogue, which I am saving for last, I was able to complete all my remaining 1,001 Movies list entries from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1980s, as well as all remaining entries over two hours long.

For those people who’ve read my last few monthly status posts you know that I’ve had issues with Netflix not shipping me a couple of movies I needed to complete the 1,001 Movies list, even though they had been at the top of my queue for months.  I finally gave up on Netflix.  I got around those issues with Angels with Dirty Faces and Three Brothers by appealing on an online forum for help.  Because of this I was able to finally watch both those movies in June.  If you have not seen either of these films, and are relying on Netflix to ship you the DVDs for them, then I recommend you place them at the top of your queue now because who knows how long it might take to get them.

My goal for July is to complete the entire 1,001 Movies list no later than Bastille Day.  Why Bastille Day?  Well, that also happens to be my birthday.  (It’s July 14th for those of you who don’t remember your world history.)  All of my remaining films are under my control so I do not have to rely on Netflix to see them.  I have a total of 22 entries remaining – nine 1960s films, twelve 1970s films, and finally 1989’s almost 10 hour long TV mini-series The Decalogue.  I plan to do a post when I am done.

As for the Oscar Best Picture nominees, I continued to plug away at that.  With my efforts in June concentrated on the 1,001 Movies list I did not see many Oscar nominees.  Once I complete the first list I might step up the number of these films I see.

Here are the 73 new movies I saw in June.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

1,001 Movies (56): Don’t Look Now (1973), An Autumn Afternoon (1962), Vivre Sa Vie aka My Life to Live (1962), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967), The Firemen’s Ball (1967), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Three Brothers (1981), The Ballad of Narayama (1983), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Secret Beyond the Door (1947), Force of Evil (1948), Whisky Galore! (1949), The Reckless Moment (1949), My Night at Maud’s (1969), Come Drink with Me (1966), Real Life (1979), Angel Face (1952), Weekend (1967), Masculin Feminin (1966), Black Orpheus (1959), In a Lonely Place (1950), The Big Heat (1953), Floating Weeds (1959), Dersu Uzala (1975), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Koyaanisqatsi (1983), The Ascent (1977), The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970), In the Year of the Pig (1968), Deep End (1970), Nosferatu the Vampire (1979), Vagabond (1985), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), Paris, Texas (1984), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), The Vanishing (1988), Housekeeping (1987), The Last Metro (1980), Utu (1984), Man of the West (1958), Fat City (1972), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), The Cool World (1964), Seconds (1966), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), The King of Comedy (1983), All That Heaven Allows (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Phenix City Story (1955), Killer of Sheep (1979), Marnie (1964), The American Friend (1977)

Oscar Nominees (6): Kitty Foyle (1940), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), The Good Earth (1937), Libeled Lady (1936), In Old Chicago (1937), Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Other Movies (11): Warm Bodies (2013), The Hangover Part III (2013), Knuckleball! (2012), 30 for 30: Elway to Marino (2013), 30 for 30: The Marinovich Project (2011), Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), The Last Stand (2013), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), A Nos Amours (1983), After Earth (2013), Death Race 2000 (1975)

Re-watches (2): Lone Star (1996), The Night Before (1988)

TV Series (2): Awkward Season 3, Defiance Season 1

I had no five star films in June.  My four star films were Whisky Galore! (1949), Real Life (1979), In a Lonely Place (1950), and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). 

Whisky Galore! is easily the best of the Ealing Studios comedies I've seen. It’s just an all around fun movie.  It must have been at least a partial inspiration for 1998’s Waking Ned Devine, another film I like quite a bit.

Before there was reality TV, before there were cameras in every other household, even before Spinal Tap, there was Real Life. Albert Brooks hit the ground running with his first film, a spoof of what would happen if a film crew tried to document a "normal family". By the time I got to the end of it I was laughing out loud.

In a Lonely Place is probably Bogie's best performance after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional complexity in a movie from 1950. And when movies from that era always ended one of two ways, this one managed to find a third, and it is much better for it.  This is one of the better discoveries for me from the 1,001 Movies list.

There's not much suspense in Oz the Great and Powerful over who's going to be the good witch and who's going to be the wicked ones, but aside from that this is a good movie. There are nods to the 1939 film, but at the same time this definitely stands on its own. The best scene in the film has nothing to do with witches at all, but a little porcelain girl whose legs have been broken.

The 1,001 Movies list is reliable for providing me with at least one 1 star movie every month.  In June I had five. 

Two were Godard movies – 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) and Masculin Feminin (1966).  Both were way too preachy and by then he had given up even caring about making something entertaining.  Even his usual 45 minutes to an hour of good movie within the larger whole was missing from these.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) is an EXTREMELY heavy handed white guilt movie where every single white person is evil, evil, evil and virulently racist towards the poor, innocent aborigines who are just a fun loving, laid back people. If you like getting knocked up side the head with a sledgehammer for two solid hours then this is the movie for you.

Finally, two films were hurt by my expectations of them because all I had ever heard was how good they were.  Had I known nothing about them they might be two star movies.  They are The Vanishing (1988) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

The Vanishing was supposed to be this gripping thriller (at least from what I had heard), yet it had zero tension and no scares.  And the main character is a complete and total f*cking idiot.  I didn’t feel bad for him in the slightest at the end of the movie.

In regards to Kiss Me Deadly, this is what I wrote on Letterboxd, which elicited several responses, most in agreement: “My God this was bad. It's like a bad parody of a noir detective film. I quite literally laughed at how bad the acting, plot, and stupid decisions were at many points. And the whole radiation thing is just silly. Wow, and this is supposed to be the 345th best movie ever made according to film critics and TSPDT, as well as one of the best noirs ever? Just wow.”